Healthy Jarred Baby Food Guide
Predictably, I had big plans of feeding Felix only homemade food when it was time to start him on solids. We first tried when he was six months old, but Felix had no real interest in anything besides the ultimate good stuff—breastmilk—until after his first birthday.
I ended up throwing away a ton of homemade purees that I’d made in the Beaba. Pretty soon, I was buying Earth’s Best jarred baby food for the rare instances when he’d accept a tablespoon at meal time.
This experience prompted me to write this guide for other moms looking for the best jarred baby food. I had not updated it since Felix was a toddler! Finally, I have new info for you guys!
Oh, and by the way: When Wolfie was ready for solids, I was waaaay more laid back. I think his first food may have been scrambled eggs. And I don’t think he ever ate anything pureed besides the pouches I could hand him in his stroller!
What’s the best jarred baby food in 2022?
The jarred baby food market isn’t exactly cutting edge–pouches seem to be winning out in that respect. And the hottest new baby food options are delivered cold to your door (we will be writing more about these soon).
When it comes to jarred baby food in 2022, I didn’t find any Best Stuff, but there’s plenty of Good Stuff. You’ll also want to check out the Okay Stuff and Sneaky Stuff–there are some surprises in there! This post will also offer some information about what you should and should not freak out about when it comes to heavy metal contamination in baby foods.
The reason that no jarred food qualifies as Best Stuff is that none of the brands have certifications, third-party testing, or set limits on heavy metal contamination, as is the case for certain pouched baby food brands.
What’s bad about jarred baby food?
There are several reasons why jarred baby foods aren’t the leading edge of the market. Some trouble spots to watch out for:
- Jarred baby foods are typically cooked longer and at higher temperatures than foods packaged in pouches. This theoretically means that the contents may be less nutritious. This also can affect the flavor of the food.
- Jars are less convenient than pouches–they’re breakable and heavy and can’t be handed off to a tot for self-feeding.
- Because jars are heavier than pouches, transporting them is more costly to the environment.
- It’s hard to know what’s in the lining of the jar lids. Look for brands that at least say they’re BPA-free, and avoid feeding your baby any food that’s stuck to the lid.
- Like all baby foods, jarred purees can be high in sugar and may have ingredients likely to be contaminated by heavy metals. See more on both of these issues, below.
Bottom line: Homemade baby food is cheaper, better for the environment, healthier, and tastier–but not always a reasonable option. If you want to find the best jarred baby food, I hope this guide will help.
What’s good about jarred baby food?
Baby food jars do offer a few unique advantages:
- Jars are plastic free (or mostly plastic free–there can be plastic components in the lining of the jar lids), so you can worry less about chemicals leaching into the food.
- Jars are more likely to be recyclable than pouches. Although some companies that produce pouches say that they’re committed to making them recyclable within the next few years.
- I like (but sometimes used to hate!) that jars make you feed your child with a spoon, rather than letting them suck down purees from a pouch. Critics of pouches say that when children feed themselves purees, they’re more likely to eat fast and miss their fullness cues, consuming more calories and sugar than they need. (See more on the sugar issue, below.)
What are the ingredients in jarred baby food?
The best jarred baby food uses simple recipes that include:
- Fruits and vegetables, and sometimes meat, in the earliest stages (four months and six months). Other categories like grains and dairy are added to blends for more advanced stages (six months and up.)
- Water for cooking and consistency.
- Small amounts of spices (sometimes) and antioxidants/preservatives to make the product shelf stable and keep the natural colors from turning. Some purees don’t have any of these minor ingredients.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that these days, pretty much all organic jarred baby foods are free of sketchy ingredients. They don’t tend to include things like “flavors,” starches/fillers, added sugar, or added salt. The common antioxidant and preservative ingredients are citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and lemon juice, which are safe and generally not problematic. (Lemon juice can be an issue for babies with citrus allergies or sensitivities).
What about heavy metals in jarred baby food?
Most of you have probably seen alarming reports—most recently in 2021—blowing the whistle on companies that knowingly allowed unsafe levels of heavy metals in their baby food products.
This is definitely concerning, and we published a whole post that gets into the nitty gritty. For the purposes of this guide, I want you to know that not all baby foods are problematic, especially when it comes to the jarred food category.
Here are some key takeaways to help you choose baby food with the lowest risk of heavy metal contamination:
- Some of the biggest offenders are rice products–-rice cereals, rice-based rusks/teethers, puffs, rice cakes, etc.
- Carrots and sweet potatoes tend to be higher in arsenic, lead, and cadmium, regardless of whether they’re organic or conventional.
- The primary ingredients themselves are what is contaminated, so making your own baby food doesn’t necessarily ensure a safer product.
- You can minimize exposure to heavy metals by avoiding the foods most likely to be contaminated. Healthy Babies Bright Futures has some handy resources, and we provide you with 9 tips in this post (including how to cook rice to vastly reduce the amount of arsenic it contains!).
- While none of the jarred food brands provide any proof of lower heavy metal contamination, some pouches of baby food do. The EU sets limits on heavy metal levels, which is why we carry Holle pouches in our store. Serenity Kids pouches are verified by the Clean Label Project, meaning they are tested for contaminants that include heavy metals. (Use code GIMME15 for 15% off at Serenity.)
Can “bad” brands make healthy jarred baby food?
You’ll notice that I include some of the brands called out in the whistleblower reports as Good Stuff or Okay Stuff. I’m certainly not endorsing them as awesome companies or pretending that they have scandal-free reputations. I’m including them because they offer jarred baby foods that skip the most concerning ingredients.
With all the brands, I think it’s smart to avoid the straight carrot and sweet potato purees. You should also minimize or skip the rice cereals, puffs, and teethers!
What about sugar in jarred baby food?
Almost all of the organic jarred baby foods I reviewed have no added sugar. However, some of these purees, even from Good Stuff brands, have shockingly high amounts of sugar. The higher sugar content comes from naturally occurring sugars in cooked-down versions of sweeter fruits, with the biggest offender being bananas.
Here’s how to avoid encouraging a sweet tooth by watching out for the higher sugar content in some purees:
- Remember that “no sugar added” doesn’t mean that a product is low in sugar.
- Look for “total sugars” on the nutrition label and compare a couple of products. For example, Earth’s Best Organic Bananas has 18 grams of total sugars per 4-ounce jar, whereas a jar of Earth’s Best Organic Peas has only 4 grams.
We call jarred baby food Good Stuff if the product is organic; made mostly or entirely from whole ingredients (versus purees and flours); and has a simple ingredient list and no weird additives.
Beech-Nut Organics jarred baby food is Good Stuff. They use whole fruits and veggies (versus purees or concentrates) and use minimal temperatures and indirect heat in their processing and cooking.
Ingredients are very straightforward; many of their purees have just fruits and/or veggies. Some have lemon juice concentrate added as a preservative.
I don’t love that some of Beech-Nut’s blends have some grain flours instead of the actual grains, but these ingredients are minor. Be sure to check the label if you need to avoid gluten, because the oats in these jars aren’t officially gluten free. Also, this Organic line is a small portion of Beech-Nut’s offerings–a lot of their conventional packaging gives organic vibes, but I don’t call the non-organic products Good Stuff (more on this below).
Earth’s Best (with some caveats!)
Earth’s Best offers the most diverse line of organic jarred baby foods, covering three stages. Although it’s nice that all of their jarred foods are organic, they’re a mixed bag–some of the products are Good Stuff, and many are only Okay Stuff.
Earth’s Best Stage 1 jars are Good Stuff, including some super simple meat purees (just organic turkey or chicken plus water). This is a unique option for parents who want to introduce solids that way.
A few of Earth’s Best Stage 2 fruit/veggie products are made with just the fruit or veggie plus water (peas and winter squash are Good Stuff). But many Stage 2 consist of fruit purees or fruit puree concentrates. I do like that Earth’s Best stipulates that the lids on their jars are BPA-free.
Gerber Organic has a line of jarred baby foods. I call these Good Stuff because they’re organic, they use whole produce (versus purees or concentrates), and their recipes are pretty straightforward.
Some Gerber Organic blends are just the featured fruit or vegetable plus water, and others have lemon juice concentrate and/or ascorbic acid (vitamin C) added. I don’t love that they have some grain flours instead of the actual grains, but these ingredients are minor.
Also, I wish that they did more with low/no heat processing (they just make a vague claim that they “cook everything to precise temperatures to seal in the natural goodness.”) I
t’s important to note that this Organic line is just a small portion of Gerber’s offerings, and I don’t call the non-organic products Good Stuff.
Okay Stuff is organic but has more purees and flours as primary ingredients, rather than the whole food.
As I mentioned above, we call some of Earth’s Best jarred baby food Good Stuff. That said, most blends are just Okay Stuff, thanks to a lot of ingredients that are fruit or vegetable puree and puree concentrates, rather than the whole food. For example, their Apples jar has “apple puree concentrate” as the primary ingredient. We know that Earth’s Best can do better, because many of their competitors use actual apples for this product.
Earth’s Best doesn’t make any claims about using less heat at any stage of processing, perhaps because of their reliance on these purees and concentrates. This is a letdown, given that all of their baby foods are organic. They also use mostly grain flours instead of whole grains.
Part of a certified B Corp owned by Danone, HappyBaby offers a line of organic baby food in jars. It’s good that they’re organic, and that the packaging is free from BPA and phthalates. Still, I call HappyBaby Okay Stuff because they uses mostly purees rather than whole foods as ingredients.
HappyBaby’s marketing is a bit gimmicky, as well. I do appreciate that their “Clearly Crafted” line of products (including these jars) are free from wheat, gluten, dairy, soy, and nuts, which is crucial for parents dealing with allergies and sensitivities. The jars also tell you how much of each ingredient is in the recipe, the countries where the main ingredients are sourced, and where the product is manufactured. (It appears that their jarred baby foods are manufactured in Europe with produce from North America, South America, and Europe.) They claim that “Our Clearly Crafted ingredients can be traced back to the farm for confidence in every bite,” but there’s no way for consumers to actually trace the ingredients. Instead, HappyBaby points you to their website where there are blurbs about featured farms.
Amazon’s brand offers a line of organic baby food in plastic tubs (they’re re-sealable and BPA-free). I’m categorizing these as Okay Stuff because of the plastic packaging and their use of some puree ingredients (banana and berries) and grain flours, rather than whole foods.
I Mama Bear points for being organic, affordable, and having straightforward recipes; the products for Apples, Pears, and Butternut Squash, for example, are just the produce plus water. Some products have citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and lemon juice concentrate added as antioxidants and preservatives.
This line of baby food jars are Okay Stuff because they are straightforward combinations of organic purees, plus standard antioxidant/preservative ingredients–citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and organic lemon juice concentrate.
I consider all non-organic baby food to be Bad Stuff. Given that we have plenty of organic baby foods available–and the market is continuing to grow, thanks to new generations of choosy parents–I don’t recommend any of the conventional stuff.
Sneaky Stuff has packaging that’s almost identical to the same brand’s organic offerings, but it isn’t organic!
Beech-Nut Naturals baby food jars look almost identical to Beech-Nut Organics jars (Good Stuff), but they are not organic! The same goes for a lot of their other products, which are sneakily offered in packaging that gives organic vibes.
Now that you know which baby jarred foods are Good, Bad, and Sneaky, I’d love to know: does anyone feed their baby shelf-stable food from glass jars? Or is it strictly pouches and delivered fresh food (like Little Spoon) or powders like Amara? Please let me know below!
Maia, Founder & CEO
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Curious as to your thoughts in the yumi or little spoon subscriptions?
How about little spoon?
It appears Happy Times no longer sells jarred baby food.
Any updates yet? Also wondering about Happy Baby’s Jarred purées. Labels look ok good but it’s the BPA I’m most curious about. Thanks!
Any harm in baby food with additives and preservatives ?
I contacted Beechnut and Earth’s Best and both companies stated the lids to the jarred baby food do not have BPA in them. Do you have any updated information regarding Earths Best and Beechnut Organic.
Hi can you tell me which food processor/blender I should but to make home made baby food Thanks
This guide really could use some updating. For instance beechnut does now have organic baby food and has a naturals selection as well.
Would the sprouts farmers market store brand of jarred baby food be considered good stuff??
I don’t know the brand, but if it’s organic and the ingredients are straight-forward (fruits, veggies), then yes!
I am just now reading the comments on this article. However, I wish I would have seen them sooner as I just placed an order on the Healthy Times website after the recommendation you gave. I have yet to receive any email regarding my order & tried contacting the company, but my email was returned undeliverable. I guess I’ll file a duspuit to get my money back!
What about HPP brands that require refrigeration because they are not processed at high temperatures? One example is once upon a farm.
Yes! These are Good Stuff, generally speaking.
Beechnut actually does have Organic as well, have you seen those? They have Beechnut naturals and Beechnut organics with no additives so not all bad.
Yes, this guide is in need of an update! Thanks for letting me know:)
I noticed you mentioned Beaba cookers here. Are you still a proponent of using their products to make homemade baby food? They seem to be reviewed positively but know they are made of plastic
How about full circle organic or wild harvest organic?
I don’t know these brands, but will look into them for when we update this guide!
Hi there, do you know if Healthy Times is still in business? The last posting to Facebook or Twitter was 2015, and they no longer sell through Amazon or Iherb. I tried to email through the contact list on their site, but the email was returned to me as undeliverable. Since it’s the only “good stuff” on your list, I’m wondering if there’s an alternative if this company has gone out of business. Thanks!
Hi! Healthy Times is indeed no longer and business, and the Jarred Food page on my site is in desperate need of an update! If you’re looking for jarred food in the meantime, I think Earth’s Best is fine as long as you read the label and make sure there are no fillers, starches, additives, etc. Some of it should definitely just be fruit or veggie purees. This for instance looks fine: http://amzn.to/1TWOMFi
I’ve been looking into the Holle & Lebenswert brands for jarred baby food and wondering how they compare to Healthy times? Between the 3 which would go with?
Hi – wanted to ask about Nature’s Promise. They weren’t mentioned but seem to have a pretty good ingredient list. Some jars have only the organic veg and water. On a separate note – I’ve noticed sodium varies wildly among baby food jars anywhere from 0-70. What is a good threshold amount? I try to get food with as low a number as possible (0 in many cases) but just wanted to get a frame of reference on what is really ok for a baby
This page does need updating–sounds like BeechNut is now making a good option! You can definitely trust the label. Be aware, though, that the lids probably contain BPA.
I am wondering the same thing as Kendra! I just bought a bunch of Beechnut Organics and when I went to their website I found the same thing, everything seems organic with no added ingredients.
Hi! I have some questions about BeechNut. I’ve done some research online and it seems like they have fairly recently reformulated their recipes and I’ve looked at the ingredients and they seem to just be real foods. ie- ingredients say “pears, cherries and blueberries”. Is that not accurate? Or is the information presented above outdated? I use your website alot for help finding good products, so I am a little confused and would love some more information about BeechNut!