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Bought meals can be better for baby: study

Press AssociationPress Association 19/07/2016

Home-made meals for babies and toddlers are not always better than shop-bought ones, researchers say.

A study found that while home-cooking costs half the price, such meals actually contain almost treble the levels of saturated fat and treble the salt compared with shop-bought food.

Experts also found a greater vegetable variety per meal in ready-made foods, despite a broader range of ingredients overall included in home-cooked recipes.

However, home-made meals were found to be more nutritious overall than meals from leading brands, although experts said parents should not rule out shop-bought meals as they can provide a "convenient alternative".

The research, from experts at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Warwick, compared the nutrient content, price, and food group variety of home-made meals with shop-bought savoury main meals aimed at under-fives.

It included 278 ready-made savoury meals (174 of which were organic), and 408 home-cooked meals made using recipes from 55 bestselling cookbooks for babies and young children.

The pre-prepared meals were from all major infant and toddler brands and were sold in British supermarkets.

Writing in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, the experts found the average cost of commercial meals was "significantly higher" than home-cooked recipes.

Both commercial and home-cooked poultry-based meals mostly used chicken (92 per cent and 90.8 per cent respectively), while beef was the main red meat offering in both home-made and shop-bought meals.

Salmon was the main fish used in shop-bought meals but cod was more often used at home. A greater selection of red meat and fish and seafood was used at home, and home-cooked recipes used a wider range of vegetables overall.

But shop-bought meals typically contained three types of vegetables per meal compared with two in home-cooked meals.

Home-cooked recipes also contained more sugar, with much higher levels of salt, double the protein and twice the amount of fat and almost treble the saturated fat.

But home-cooked meals had more nutrients, although half exceeded the calorie requirements for a single meal and 37 per cent exceeded the recommendation on calories from fat.

Researchers concluded: "The majority of commercial meals met energy density recommendations and can provide a convenient alternative which includes a greater vegetable variety per meal.

"Home-cooked recipes provided 6 per cent to 77 per cent more nutrients than commercial, however the majority of these recipes exceeded energy density and fat recommendations.

Professor Julian Hamilton-Shield, from the University of Bristol, said: "It is very likely that infant-specific, commercial recipe books are only accessed by a minority of families cooking at home for their infants.

"The authors again state they did not look at the prevalence or frequency of use by parents of such books. If anything, the study does call into question the value of 'expert' infant recipe books over pre-prepared meals or ordinary home cooking."

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