1. White Leaf Provisions / 2. Cerebelly / 3. Once Upon a Farm 4. / Serenity Kids / 5. Holle
Baby food pouches are much easier to handle than jars of food, and both of my kids enjoyed them well into their preschool years. In addition, pouched baby food is probably more nutritious than jarred foods (more on this below).
But not all brands of pouched baby foods–even the organic ones–are Good Stuff. In fact, we found only four brands that we can definitively recommend, which we’ve listed above.
Read on to learn how to read pouched baby food labels, the concerning contaminants you won’t see on labels, and which brands are Okay Stuff if you aren’t able to find the Good Stuff.
My Favorite Baby Food Pouches
I’m partial to Holle baby food pouches because they are biodynamic, in addition to being organic, and because they are made in Europe, where there are limits set on heavy metals in baby food. You’ll read more about this brand below, under “The Good Stuff.”
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The Problems with Baby Food Pouches
Baby food pouches offer convenience, and I think they also offer a solid option for nutritious food for babies and toddlers. But pouched baby foods aren’t without drawbacks and concerns.
- The biggest issue with baby food sold in pouches rather than glass jars is that is that the plastic pouches can not be easily recycled. All of the brands we reviewed use the same basic materials for their pouches, which is a combination of BPA-free polypropylene and foil. Fortunately, polypropylene seems to be the safest type of plastic, but that fact that you can’t really recycle it is obviously a big problem.
- There are other potential downsides to pouch-feeding, including that it may inhibit chewing and even normal speech development. That said, I wouldn’t worry too much about this as long as your child has ample opportunity to eat finger foods in a variety of textures.
- The issue of heavy metals in baby foods–while not unique to pouched food–is hugely concerning, and we covered this in depth here. (The one sentence story is: In 2020, the Subcommittee on Economic & Consumer Policy reported that arsenic, lead, and cadmium were present at problematic levels in many brands of organic baby food.) The big takeaway is to avoid rice-based baby food and anything with fruit juice concentrate, but we will also cover metal contamination in our review of the brands below.
The Upsides of Baby Food Pouches
Besides the convenience factor, pouched baby food has some advantages over traditional jarred baby food, including:
- According to the companies that use them, plastic pouches better protect flavor and nutrients, and require lower, shorter heat times.
- Pouches are free of BPA, whereas the lids of jarred food may contain BPA.
- Pouches are roughly ten times lighter than classic glass jars, so they require that much less energy to produce and ship.
- While pouches cannot be recycled, they use 75 percent less materials than traditional baby food containers.
A Non-Pouch Baby Food We Love
Amara is the only brand to freeze-dry whole, organic ingredients and then pulse them into powder to make baby food. Amara’s blends don’t use high heat processing, which also results in a lower-sugar final product.
Amara’s packets can be re-hydrated with water, breast milk, or formula, and it’s amazing to see them turn to a puree that retains the natural taste and texture of the whole ingredients.
All Amara suppliers must meet third-party federal requirements for heavy metals, and none of Amara’s blends contain rice.
We also love that Amara’s packets are lightweight, making them less of an environmental burden, and that they are more affordable than pouched baby food.
How We Ranked Baby Food Pouches
What follows is our ranking of baby food pouches–some are Good, some are Okay, and others should be avoided entirely, and you’ll find these in our Bad Stuff and Sneaky Stuff sections.
The Good Stuff brands are the ones that are not only organic and nutritionally superior, but also those that offer some form of independent testing or certification to prove that they are not contaminated with heavy metals.
The Okay Stuff category is home to the brands that we would basically feel fine feeding to our babies, especially if it wasn’t their sole source of food. These brands didn’t make the cut for Good Stuff because either they lack certifications or independent testing or because they contain non-whole food ingredients–such as fruit juice concentrate or some kind of “flavoring.”
The Bad Stuff and Sneaky Stuff brands are ones that we would not recommend buying, due to either sub-par ingredients or contamination concerns. It’s worth noting that my boys both grew up eating Sneaky Stuff pouches since none of the Good Stuff brands existing even five years ago!
There are also several brands from which that we could not obtain sufficient information to determine whether they contain concerning levels of heavy metals or not. These include Peter Rabbit Organics, Ella’s Kitchen, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods 365 pouches.
These pouches of baby food have always been tested for heavy metals, not just since the issue got so much attention. Cerebelly pouches are Clean Label Certified, and our team’s Dr. Hopkins has vetted this certification process as sufficiently robust.
Cerebelly’s founder is a neurosurgeon who casually also has her PhD, and these blends were developed to enhance brain development, with ingredients like maitake mushrooms and chlorella.
Holle is a new addition to this list, because we are now able to get it in the United States! Unlike the FDA, the EU sets standards for heavy metals in baby food.
We also love that Holle’s pouches are made with no purees or fruit juices–just whole fruits and veggies. Their are no additives or flours–grains include whole oat or spelt.
Finally, Holle is also made with ingredients that are not only organic but also biodynamic.
Biodynamic farms are built to integrate every living organism within the system to maximizing the health and vitality of the farm’s every aspect. A biodynamic farm aims to produce everything on the premises, including seeds, fertilizers, natural control agents for pests, and even the feed for livestock.
Once Upon a Farm
What makes the Once Upon a Farm blends unique is that they are cold pressed to lock in the nutrients. The high-pressure processing makes Once Upon a Farms superior to basically every brand in terms both nutrition and freshness.
Although these pouches need to be refrigerated, they are fine at room temp for four hours, so they still work on the go.
These fruit and veggie blends are made from organic, simple ingredients. They use whole produce and don’t add any sugar, even in the form of “fruit concentrate.”
Once Upon a Farm is Clean Label certified.
This line of Paleo-inspired baby food uses organic vegetables and grass-fed and pasture-raised meats. Serenity’s blends were designed to mimic the macro-nutrients found in breast milk, meaning they have a similar ratio of fats, proteins, and carbs.
All Serenity blends are free of hormones, antibiotics, GMO’s, gluten, fillers, grain, dairy, corn, allergens, eggs, and nuts. Serenity Kids is verified by the Clean Label Project, which means their products are tested for over 200 different contaminants, including heavy metals, glyphosate, agrochemicals, and plastics. Use code GIMME15 for 15% off.
Also, Serenity Kids they will refund your money, no questions asked, if your kid doesn’t like the pouches you buy!
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Gerber Organics pouches are okay if they contain just the fruit and veggies on the front of the package. But you need to label-read, because the Banana Smoothie flavor, for instance, contains banana concentrate rather than pure bananas, as well as “vanilla flavor” instead of just vanilla extract. I am giving Gerber enough points to bump their organic pouches to Okay Stuff because they were the cleanest brand in terms of heavy metal contamination in the 2020 Congressional Report. For each of the specific heavy metals listed, the examples of Gerber ingredients’ metal levels appear relatively low compared to the other manufacturers.
Little Spoon Smoothie Pouches are new to the market and I like that they contain some nutritional powerhouses like tahini, chia seeds, and chickpeas. This is admittedly nit-picky, but I’m calling these Okay Stuff instead of Good Stuff because they use oat flour instead of actual oats in a few of their blaends, and because I can’t get any information on heavy metal testing.
Gerber is maybe the only brand that makes a non-organic pouch, so I’m calling that Bad Stuff. (Note that Gerber organic pouches are actually Okay Stuff–see above!).
GoGo squeeZ has a few organic options, even those contain concentrates in place of real fruits. Some of their blends even contain cane sugar, and they make no claims about purity from heavy metals. They also contain rice flour, natural flavors, and pea protein isolate. This brand is the worst of every brand we reviewed.
Beech-Nut went organic six years ago, and they make some nutritious blends that contain just mixed fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, the 2021 Congressional Report revealed that Beech-Nut continued to use ingredients after internal testing found them to have very high levels of a variety of heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, and cadmium.
Earth’s Best‘s parent company, Hain, was called out in the 2021 Congressional Report for setting its own dangerously high heavy metal internal standards, and then routinely accepting ingredients that surpassed these standards. In addition, even their simplest flavors (pears, for instance) are fortified with all sorts of stuff, including zinc sulfate, and citric acid.
HappyBABY, under the parent company Nuture, makes pouches that contain nutritious blends of vegetables and grains, and high quality proteins like wild Alaskan salmon. I would like to give them credit for testing for mercury, but the 2021 Congressional Report revealed that their test data shows finished food products with as much as 10 ppb of this neurotoxic (the recommendation is that it should not exceed 5 ppb). Nuture is also called out in the report for claiming that they used a standard of 50 ppb for lead, and then later submitting test documents showing that their standard was actually of 100 ppb.
Noka isn’t marketed for babies, but a lot of you asked about this brand. Noka is organic and I love that their pouches are hearty with things like nut butters included. Unfortunately, Noka pouches contain non-whole-food ingredients, like brown rice protein, natural flavors, and sunflower lecithin.
Plum Organics refused to comply when asked to submit heavy metal testing data to the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy in 2019, which makes them default Sneaky Stuff. Plum claims that they “responded quickly to their questions and never refused anything requested of us.” Also, it’s a little sneaky that the “grains” in these blends are actually grain flours (i.e., millet flour, oat flour, etc.) Some of Plum’s other toddler snacks contain sugar. (Note that Plum is owned by Campbell.)
Parent’s Choice is another brand that didn’t cooperate with the investigation into heavy metals in 2019. A 2021 lawsuit claims that “The Subcommittee found [Parent’s Choice’s] lack of transparency greatly concerning, fearing that they might be obscuring the presence of higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their baby food products than their competitors’ products.”
Sprout Foods faces a class suit in the state of California, USA, for “negligent, reckless, and/or intentional practice of misrepresenting and failing to fully disclose the presence of dangerous substances in its baby foods.”
Maia, Founder & CEO
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