Meal cooked at home for infants usually exceed energy density and dietary fat recommendations...

Despite being perceived as the best option, home-cooked meals for infants and young children are not always better than commercially available baby foods, research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood claims.

When a child weans at around six-months old, the recommendation is for a variety of foods to provide a balanced diet rich in a broad range of nutrients.

Researchers wanted to assess how well homemade and commercially available readymade meals designed for infants and young children met age specific national dietary recommendations.

They compared the nutrient content, price, and food group variety of 278 readymade savoury meals, 174 of which were organic, and 408 home cooked meals, made using recipes from 55 bestselling cookbooks designed for the diets of infants and young children.

Home cooked meals included a greater variety of vegetables (33) overall than readymade meals (22), but commercial products contained a greater vegetable variety per meal, averaging three compared with two for home cooked recipes.

Home cooked meals also provided 26 per cent more energy and 44 per cent more protein and total fat, including saturated fat, than commercial products.

While almost two thirds of commercial products met dietary recommendations on energy density, only just over a third of home-cooked meals did so, and over half exceeded the maximum range.

“Unlike adult recommendations, which encourage reducing energy density and fats, it is important in infants that food is suitably energy dense in appropriately sized meals to aid growth and development,” the research said.

“Dietary fats contribute essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins together with energy and sensory qualities, thus are vital for the growing child, however excessive intakes may impact on childhood obesity and health.”

Aside from the nutritional findings, the research highlighted the cost difference between bought food and that prepared in the home.

Excluding fuel costs, home-cooked meals were found to be around half the price of commercially available readymade meals at £0.33 per 100g compared with £0.68 per 100g.