Part II of the series Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food
Snacking has become a national pastime. The NPD Group, a leading research organization hired by most Big Food companies, recently reported that “one out of every five eating occasions is a snack.” Now that statistic might not be so alarming if the snacks were healthy. Unfortunately, more often than not these snacks aren’t real food. Instead they’re fat-dripping, salt-filled, GMO-laced fake food that has been highly processed. But after researching Part I of my series, Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food, I got curious. When does junk food snacking start? As I ventured back into the infant and toddler aisle of my local grocery story, I discovered it starts far too young.
It all begins innocently enough. Around 6 to 12 months, children start developing “pincer” grasp—the ability to pick up things with their thumbs and index fingers. For millennium, children used this emerging skill to start “feeding themselves” real foods like small morsels of fruits or vegetables. But over the past 50 years, processed foods have been slowly squeezing out simple, real foods from baby’s high chair.
One of the first Big Food brands to market baby “finger foods” to Moms was General Mills’ Cheerios. With 1g of sugar and 2g of dietary fiber (in a 3/4 cup serving) it’s arguably one of the healthier choices among processed cereals. But with added salt and some genetically modified ingredients, these oat-based “Os” aren’t as simple as they claim to be. For decades, however, Cheerios remained a relatively unchallenged favorite in this first finger food world. However during the past 10 years one global food behemoth has decided to cash in on baby snacking, and in turn has set up millions of children for a lifelong snack addiction.
Yes, that company is none other than Nestlé, the world’s largest food company and owner of the Gerber brand. Nestlé’s self-ascribed approach for food items aimed at young children is “Start Healthy Stay Healthy.” While this sentiment sounds wonderful, I’d argue actions speak louder than words. So in today’s post I’ll take a closer look at Nestlé’s products targeted at a segment they call “crawlers.” Then in Part III of Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food, I’ll examine Nestlé’s line-up for toddlers and pre-schoolers.
Nestlé defines crawlers as children who crawl with their stomach on the floor and are beginning to self-feed with their fingers. For most babies these developmental milestones are happening around 6-8 months old. Remarkably, Nestlé also claims that as a crawler “grows into toddlerhood, about 25% of his calories will come from snacks.” After looking at Nestlé’s snack line-up, I’m seriously frightened.
Although Gerber Graduate Puffs are fairly similar to Cheerios (both contain GMOs and have 1g added sugar), Gerber’s version is definitely more processed by virtue of using some refined grains, having no fiber, and adding “natural” flavors. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that natural flavors are hardly what you imagine them to be. Instead, they are usually made up of complex compounds that are designed by “flavor house” companies that literally create flavorings as a way to get you “addicted” to food [If you want to learn more about this, visit my post entitled, Confessions of a Former Coke "Addict"].
So where do I net out on Gerber Graduates Puffs? All-in-all, I wouldn’t choose to feed my “crawler” this food.
Nestlé steps up their infant snacking game with Gerber Graduates “yogurt melts.” Although the package states “nutrition specially made for your child,” I’m very puzzled how they can defend this claim since each 7g serving packs 4g of sugar. Hmmm… I’m no math major but this stuff is more than 50% sugars. To top things off, the so-called yogurt is sourced from cows treated with growth hormones (rBGH), and Nestlé has decided to add some “natural” flavors for good measure. Let’s face it, Nestlé, this is nothing more than baby candy.
If the fact that Nestlé is serving up candy to crawlers isn’t appalling enough, take a look at Gerber’s lil’ crunchers. OMG, I can’t believe this—Nestlé is selling cheese puffs to infants with a front label claim “supports HEALTHY GROWTH & development.” Hello? This is a cheese puff made with with highly processed ingredients, 2g of fat (almost 30% by weight), GMOs, preservatives, dairy sourced from cows treated with rBGH, lots of salt, and “natural” flavors. Of course, if salty isn’t your baby’s thing, you can go the pre-sweetened snack route with Maple or Apple flavored Wagon Wheels.
How does this make me feel? I’m sorry, but in my 15+ years of food marketing experience, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more inappropriate lineup. When you pair “snacks” like these with research that suggests “junk food is as addictive as heroin,” you’re literally putting six month old crawlers on a course towards a lifelong struggle with food. Shame on you Nestlé. The sad thing is, Nestlé’s junk food approach to children’s nutrition doesn’t end there. So stay-tuned for Part III of Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food.
As always, thanks for visiting my blog. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my book, Fat Profits, you can download your FREE chapter here. With the holidays just around the corner, Fat Profits may be the perfect gift idea—an entertaining thriller that also gets people asking the question, “do I really know what’s in my food.”
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