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Nutritive value, cost, and variety of infant commercial meals vs. home-cooked meals

Posted:  Thursday, August 11, 2016

Nutrients, diversity, and price of infant commercial meals vs. home-cooked meals

Complementary foods are required to supplement the breast milk-based diet of infants after 6 months of age. Weaning is important at this stage, since breastfeeding alone does not meet infants’ growing nutritional requirements. A study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood compared the cost, nutritive value, and food variety in the content of commercial meals with that of infant and young child feeding (IYCF) home-cooked meals.

For the cross-sectional study, 278 commercial pre-prepared main meals and 408 home-cooked meals were analysed. The individual cost of the commercial meals and the average price of the raw ingredients of the home-cooked meals were recorded. Food variety was determined by calculating the vegetable variety score, which is the number of vegetable varieties within a meal. Nutritive value and ingredient details of the commercial products were collected from the product label or the product website. Raw ingredients and measurements from recipe books were analysed for their nutritive value, using published nutritional composition data for cooked foods.

Commercial meals had a greater vegetable variety score of 3.0 per meal compared to home-cooked meals, which had a score of 2.0. Although commercial meals offered more vegetable variety per meal, they were more expensive. Compared to commercial meals, home-cooked meals provided 7%–200% more energy and nutrients such as carbohydrates, salt, total fat and saturated fat. About 64.6% of commercial products and 36.6% of home-cooked meals were in compliance with the energy density recommendations. About 52.0% of the commercial meals had lower-than-recommended energy, while 47.3% were within the recommended range of 30%–45% energy derived from the fat content. Contrastingly, 34.1% of home-cooked meals met the recommended energy density from total fat, while about 37.0% exceeded the recommendation range specified by UK age-specific dietary recommendations.

Although popular cookbooks were evaluated in this study, the manner in which the parents used these cookbooks was not analysed. Since micronutrient content was not mentioned on the product label of the commercial meals, the authors were unable to compare the micronutrient content of commercial and home-cooked meals.

The study presented an overall comparison between commercial and home-cooked meals. Commercial meals were energy dense, with a larger variety of vegetables, but were more expensive compared to home-cooked meals. Opting for home-cooked meals could be a better option although some of these recipes provided more energy and fat. Additional research on the texture of meals, which is another important feature of IYCF, is warranted.

News source – Carstairs SA, Craig LC, Marais D, Bora OE, Kiezebrink K. A comparison of pre–prepared commercial infant feeding meals to home–cooked recipes. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2016 May 24, 1–6. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2015-310098.