I’ve recently become a serious label reader. Previously while grocery shopping, I’d glance at the data on the back of food packages to make sure the item I was about to purchase didn’t contain an entire day’s worth of fat, or I’d do a quick comparison to determine which brand of granola bars contained fewer calories. But since my baby girl began eating solid food, I’ve pretty much made a career out of studiously inspecting every scrap of nutritional information I can get my hands on.
My husband and I have employed baby-led weaning, which is a method of introducing a baby to solids by skipping the mushy pureed and strained foods stage and going straight to easily managed table foods, such as roasted vegetable wedges, fruit slices and grains. The idea is to make sure the child is eating a healthy, fresh, well-balanced diet with limited pre-packaged food. Babies’ bodies cannot easily break down sodium and sugar, so, according to all the research I’ve done, it’s a good idea to skip most snack-type foods and choose other prepared items very carefully.
In addition to produce, lean meat, eggs and 100 percent whole-wheat toast, I have allowed my daughter to sample hummus, prunes, grain crackers and a few dairy products, which is where my newfound habit of label reading enters the picture. I’ll stand in the refrigerated-foods section at the store, pouring over the backs of two Greek yogurt containers. One contains less sugar than the other, but the higher-sugar brand has more protein and fewer milligrams of sodium. Hmm … what’s a nutritionally confused mom to do?
In another aisle, I’m not sure how much time has passed when I finally decide between two brands of crackers — one of which is the whole-grain champion, even though it has more carbohydrates than two other brands I considered.
My husband now refuses to go grocery shopping with me, and I think the employees who stock the shelves at the store will someday soon ask me if I need help reading the daunting lists of ingredients emblazoned on the backs of some packages.
Starting my daughter on solid foods also has improved my food-preparation techniques and motivated me to cook more. Instead of tossing a frozen pizza in the oven and flopping down on the couch when I get home from work at 7:30 p.m., the knowledge that my baby can’t handle a lot of sodium and preservatives leads me to pop a few skinless chicken breasts in the oven instead. Sure, it takes a few minutes longer than pizza, but the extra time gives me an opportunity to steam some veggies and simmer some brown rice to round out the meal.
Although I miss zoning out in front of the television while waiting for a frozen pizza to bake, my time obviously is better spent preparing a healthy meal for my family than catching a “Seinfeld” rerun.
Hollie Moore Barnidge is the managing editor of the Coastal Courier in Hinesville.