Food Pouches for Kids: Convenience, But At What Cost?

Posted on August 1, 2016

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Just this week, Hubby and Lila were at the grocery store and noted some intriguing ethnic meals packaged in pouches.  The idea is that you cut the pouch open, glop the contents over some rice or noodles, and microwave it.  We’re not much into convenience foods these days, but we are fans of spicy exotic fare, so we decided to give it a try.

By the time we got home, the glop was all over the inside of the grocery bag.  Initially Lila blamed the folks who bagged the items, but it may not have been their fault: when I cut open the pouches to dispose of the contents, one meal was all moldy on the inside.  Clearly, that pouch had been breached for a while, turning it into a delicious serving of botulism or salmonella or God-knows-what.  The other pouch may have met its untimely end due to bad packing after we bought it, but that only confirms the fragility of these things.

As a very disgusted Lila dumped her wasted money into the compost heap, wondering about the proliferation of food pouches and how safe they really were, she remembered that we had covered this very topic some time ago.  After this week’s experience with the botulism-in-a-pouch, it seems only appropriate to run this again, and ask the question:  do we really want to feed these things to our kids??

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Once upon a time, not so very long ago, most families sat down every evening to some kind of home-cooked supper, because, well, that was pretty much the only way to get the evening meal.  Fast food didn’t really exist, or was not conveniently close.  Restaurants were expensive, slow, and required people to dress decently.  So most families had a parent who cooked, and the family all sat down at the same time to eat.

Then the changes crept in:  TV dinners, fast food, cheap take-out.  Kids started spending more time at day care and less with their families.  Parents became chauffeurs racing all over town in “soccer mom” vans getting their kids to various after-school activities.  Now the family trickles home late, exhausted from work, organized activities, and driving endless loops around town.  We grab something portable for breakfast, like a Pop-Tart or Granola bar.  We snack on crackers or Fruit Roll-Ups in the car.  The evening meal is reduced to a bucket of take-out if we’re lucky, or everyone just arrives home at different times and fends for themselves if we’re not lucky.

And now, in the latest iteration of “convenience food,” we don’t even have to feed our babies anymore.  As Matt Richtel writes in The New York Times, we can just hand them a little pouch of glop and they can suck on it.  This idea is being sold by Neil Grimmer of the company Plum Organics, with the spin that we can avoid all the hassle of feeding our picky little eaters and “empower” them.  Writes Richtel:  “Now our children can eat on the run, too.”

Really?  Really?  Is this what we should be aiming for?

Funny, family dinners are still touted as conveying all kinds of benefits ranging from reducing obesity to helping to raise kids who stay out of trouble.  Yet we seem to be doing our best to remove every last vestige of the home-cooked, shared meal from our lives, and to put our nutrition – and our kids’ nutrition – completely into the hands of factories that process our food into pre-cooked, pre-packaged, pre-seasoned… something.  I mean, does anyone really know what’s in a chicken nugget?  A Fruit Roll-Up?  Has no one read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle?

To be fair, Plum Organics does seem to produce real food.  I just take issue with the squeezable self-serve packaging that allows us to start training our kids from early infancy to always have food in hand, to use it as a distraction, to munch whenever they have the least inclination or thought of it.  It is my firm belief that it is exactly this approach to food that has landed us the nearly undisputed title of Fattest Nation in the World.  I also firmly believe that making our kids (or ourselves) wait just a little while for our food helps build essential skills like patience and deferred gratification.

Not to mention, I find the pouches unappetizing, and I firmly believe that a person should not have to put up with second-rate food just because he happens to be only 3 or 5 or 10 years old.  When I was in the Army, one of the most revolting MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat) was the omelet.  Have you ever eaten a room-temperature omelet out of a plastic pouch?  Not pleasant.  Now, if you had a plate to put it on, and could heat it up and fluff it up, it wasn’t half bad.  But… the room-temperature pouch?  Um, no.  I’d rather stay hungry until I could find something a little more appealing.

Parents, what do you think of the food pouches for the little ones?

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