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.