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Mixed Vegetable Baby Food

By amy • • Apr 3rd, 2010 • Category: Columns, Fruits And Vegetables, Prepared Foods

Shelf Life had dinner with a bunch of babies the other day, and was struck by their complete and utter awesomeness. For us, the miracle of newborn humanity gives rise to all sorts of deeply felt, meaning-of-life questions, not to mention the follow-up issues: Is Baby Einstein a complete and utter waste of time? Do infants get in touch with their inner child? Does anyone look good dressed head to toe in yellow? And what’s up with baby food? Shelf Life has no answers to the former, but we can help with the question of kid cuisine.

Commercial baby foods date from the late nineteenth century, when companies such as Nestle promoted their dried milk products as progressive and hygienic alternatives to domestic fare (Nestle’s Best For Babies, for example, was touted as better than milk, “for impure milk in hot weather is one of the chief causes of sickness among babies”). But it wasn’t until the end of the 1920s that manufactured baby foods became a staple, as canned foods dropped in price and child care experts endorsed strained fruits and vegetables for the infant diet. The Gerber Company was founded in 1927 (and almost immediately took advantage of the burgeoning craft of advertising by coming up with its iconic Gerber Baby campaign), and Beech Nut in 1931. One of the landmarks in the history of packaged food was invented in Canada that same year: three pediatricians and a nutrition laboratory technician at Sick Childrens Hospital in Toronto developed a dried cereal called Pablum. Still a standard infant food today, Pablum is pre-cooked and provides added vitamins (especially D, the lack of which causes the childhood disease ricketts). For 25 years, Sick Kids received a royalty for every package of Pablum sold; in 2005 the brand was acquired by Heinz.

For as long as there has been manufactured baby food, parents have seesawed between the attractions of convenient, long-life products concocted by company technicians versus labour-intensive, personally pulverized carrots or bananas made by Mom (or Mr. Mom). In eras such as the 1930s and the 1950s, consumers placed a great deal of faith in the claims of science and industry, so much so that homemade baby food was thought to be the work of nutters, bohemians, and farmers. Today, the Age of Progress consensus is long over. Consumers are much more wary of corporate food, much more informed about child nutrition, and possess in their kitchens the single most effective means of bypassing packaged baby food altogether: a blender. Not to be outmaneuvered, Big Baby figured out a way to offer no-fuss infant meals and reassure parents at the same time. Enter organic baby food, sales of which have shot up %58 percent in five years.

With all this in mind, Shelf Life convened a special panel of parents and parents-to-be to tackle those little jars. We made a point of putting ourselves in a baby frame of mind, to access the infant psyche: primitive, mewling, messy. Our objective: to find food that doesn’t suck for people who do.

Digging out their old wee spoons are this month’s expert judges: producer, writer, presenter, and mother of three Crystal Asher, currently in her first trimester of a book project; chef Rodney Bowers, owner of Rosebud Restaurant, star of HGTV’s ‘Marriage Under Construction’ and soon to become a proud father; and Victoria Welch, food stylist on ‘Eat, Shrink and Be Merry’, nine months along and due to give birth in approximately twenty minutes. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every product in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste tested and awarded between zero and five stars.

Brand One

Strained Mixed Vegetables
128ml., $0.89 cents
widely available
for more information visit

Crystal: Brand One is orange coloured and a bit on the lumpy side. I expect many mixed vegetable baby foods are this colour, probably because carrots and/or sweet potato are relatively inexpensive. The texture has
some fiber, and somewhere in the taste I’m picking up citrus. I’d say it’s average.

Rodney: It smells like a V8 juice cocktail, or roasted squash, with a slight sweetness. The texture is a little bit grainy in a lot of paste. Brand One is okay, but could taste a bit cleaner.

Victoria: The appearance is fine; the orange colour doesn’t scream at me; and there’s a pleasant mild aroma, but there might be a thickener in there – maybe some flour? I’m finding a chalky aftertaste. If I was a  baby this wouldn’t be my favourite.

Brand One Total SIX AND A HALF STARS ******1/2

Brand Two

Mother Hen
Strained Californian Mixed Vegetable Puree
6 x 59ml., $7.39
available at health and specialty food stores
for more information visit

Crystal: Weird smell, and it looks like pureed soup. Runniness isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s better to err on the side of watery because very young kids really only have a sucking instinct; they kind of learn to chew. Brand Two tastes like cabbage. Baby would have to love cabbage to go for this one.

Rodney: Yes, the aroma – to me it smells like a Polish grandmother’s kitchen. The texture is soupy, watery, separating. Brand Two tastes like cabbage and turnip; it reminds me of a Jiggs dinner with no salt.You don’t know what a Jiggs dinner is? It’s from Newfoundland, baby.

Victoria: I like this one, it has a nice flavour of cabbage and lentils. Texture-wise it is very runny and blobby. What’s interesting is how many kids seem to prefer bland over spicy flavours – my son went in the opposite direction and really liked spicy food as a child.

Brand One Total EIGHT AND A HALF STARS ********1/2

Brand Three

Simply Kids
Strained Mixed Vegetables
128ml., 59 cents
available at Metro stores; for more information visit

Crystal: Ack! … Brand Three tastes like hair dye and looks like lumpy polyfilla –babyfilla! – so I think baby is not liking this one; baby is crying ‘Wah!’

Rodney: Appearance: lumpy schmook. Taste: eeewwkie. Smell: sweet potato blahh.

Victoria: Um, it’s horrible. The appearance isn’t totally awful – it’s like pureed sweet potato – but Brand Three is way too thick and tastes like cardboard.

Brand Three TWO STARS**

Brand Four

PC Organics
Strained Mixed Vegetable
128ml., 75 cents
available at Loblaws stores and wherever PC products are sold; for more information visit

Crystal: Brand Four has a sweet, watery taste, a very smooth texture, and a nice straightforward orange colour. I think this one works because it is successfully one-dimensional; it keeps things simple. And the ingredients don’t feel cheap. I think it would be baby’s top pick.

Rodney: It’s sweet in a good way, with a clean, fibrous texture and a light to non-existent aroma. Brand Four looks like spaghetti sauce so if the baby wants to really make an impression on the walls and furniture this would be the brand to go with.

Victoria: Yes it does look like pasta sauce – a very smooth pasta sauce. Actually it’s the smoothness I like, and I think an infant would really like the texture as well, and the nice naturally sweet taste.

Brand Four Total THIRTEEN STARS *************

The Results President’s Choice was the highest achiever, with Mother Hen and Heinz crawling gamely behind and occasionally falling over in a cute way. Least popular brand Simply Kids was “tired” and “missing his nap” so had to be taken into another room.

Off the Menu First things first: A Jiggs dinner is a traditional Sunday meal of pickled salt beef and boiled vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and turnips, common to Newfoundland and Labrador. Baby food in general is … excuse us for a moment! Everybody, we have some new people in the house: Shelf Life would like to welcome into the world 7 lb 14 oz Griffon Hillier Welch, born March 5, 2010, and 7 lb 15 oz Abigail (Abbey as in Road) Alexandra Bowers, born March 7. Dinner’s on you, kids!

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