16 Bizarre Facts About Baby Food Through the Years

Judy Dutton | Feb 26, 2015 Baby
16 Bizarre Facts About Baby Food Through the Years

baby eating food

As soon as babies start eating solids, it's mind-boggling how much baby food you plow through in your average week. And whether you slave away on homemade or fill your shopping cart with jars of Gerber, Earth's Best, or some other brand, you'll be surprised to know that baby food has a long and colorful history behind it. Here are some surprising facts about baby food that will make you see feeding time in a whole new way.

Would you have bought that "flavor" baby food in #10? Yikes!


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  • Mass Market Baby Food Was Born in the 1920s


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    Mass marketed baby food first hit store shelves around the 1920s, and was embraced by women who were tired of making their own at home, says Amy Bentley, a professor of food studies at New York University and author of Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health and the Industrialization of the American Diet.

    The government even suggested that commercial products were healthier than homemade since the manufacterers' machinery could create a more finely-sieved food. Only in the 1970s, inflation and food safety/nutritional concerns led many moms to return to making their own, and this DIY baby food movement is still going strong today. 

  • One Early Flavor: Liver Soup!


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    One of the earliest canned baby food products was liver soup. Gerber's even advertised this soup as having a "pleasingly bland taste children like," high in vitamins A, B, and C plus tons of iron. While sales were discontinued around the 1950s, vintage jars and advertisements for this stomach-turning concoction are still sold online because, well, who'd believe it otherwise?

  • They Used to Blow Food Down Babies' Throats


    Image via Wikimedia Commons

    If spoon-feeding your baby feels like an tedious process, consider this: back in the 16th century, parents really knew how to shovel it in with a device called a "pap boat" instead.

    How it works: you place the spoon-shaped end of the "boat" into your baby's mouth, then you pour or "blow" the pap in (pap was a mixture of bread soaked in water or milk). We're not sure how much babies liked this Dark Ages-type device, but at the time, it was considered a fast, efficient way to get those calories in -- dinner was over in seconds!

  • We Buy More Baby Food Than Anything Else


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    By 1948, baby food was the most commonly purchased item in ten large American cities, says Bentley. Nearly twice as many cans or jars of baby cereals, fruits, vegetables and meats were sold compared to the next nearest competitor, evaporated milk (which, by the way, was also used to feed infants).

  • Doctors Thought Babies Should Be Fed Just Days After Birth


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    In the 1960s, some doctors advocated feeding babies solids within days of birth, says Bentley. The most extreme advocate of this practice was Miami physician Walter Sackett, Jr., author of Bringing Up Babies, which recommended moms feed their babies cereal at 2-3 days, "at 12 noon and at 12 midnight" and to not be "surprised to see Baby eating his first cereal with gusto and a surprising dexterity." Um, really? 

  • Baby Food Contains Flame Retardants


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    Here's news that'll get parents all fired up: some baby food contains flame retardants. Why? We don't know, except one study showed that levels are well below what would be considered dangerous to eat, even for babies. Still, though, you've gotta wonder why they're in there in the first place: it's not like baby food will likely catch fire on your stove.

  • Fruits and Veggies Were Once Deemed 'Unhealthy'


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    Before the early 1900s, parents were told to not feed babies fruits and vegetables until about 2 years of age, says Bentley, due to centuries-old theories which warned that fruits and veggies made children prone to fevers and diarrhea (in fact, one 1884 newspaper illustration depicated a skeleton disguised as a fruit seller offering fresh produce to kids). These strange beliefs changed once scientists discovered the importance of vitamins and minerals for babies and adults, and which fruits and veggies have in spades.

    More from The Stir: 8 Tips for Feeding Solids to a Fussy Eater

  • Baby Food Comes in a 'Ramen' Flavor


    In 2009, Gerber unveiled the latest exotic flavor: ramen! That way babies can develop a taste for what they'll be eating all through college.

  • Adults Ate It, Too


    Image via Lars Zahner/shutterstock

    In the mid-20th century, baby food was so popular that some moms were cooking with recipes that used it as an ingredient for adults, says Bentley. Baby food companies created the recipes and sent them to newspapers; recipes included things like "Apricot Refresher" (1 egg white, 2 tablespoons orange juice, 1 can baby food apricots served over cracked ice) and "Puree Mongole" (two jars of strained peas, tomato paste, boullion cubes, cream, curry powder and sherry). Stranger still: baby food companies are still providing consumers with recipes using baby food as an ingredient, only now via Facebook and Twitter. So, er, if you're an adventurous eater check it out.

  • Baby Food Once Contained MSG


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    By the 1950s, baby food contained tons of additives and preservatives that would make many modern-day moms steer clear, from salt to nitrates to MSG. Only after a backlash began in the 1970s, commercial manufacturers purged their foods of these ingredients.

  • Added Sugar Was Seen as a GOOD Thing


    Image via Viktoria Gavrilina/shutterstock

    Added sugar was plentiful in early baby food products, and seen as a good thing: a source of energy (ha, as if babies need more of that)! Manufacturers even made baby food desserts, and few considered this a problem until the 1970s. By the turn of this century, added sugar was removed from most U.S. baby foods, although outside our borders that's not the case. One 2010 study from the University of Calgary found a high percentage of sugar in more than half of baby food products.

  • It Was Once Sold to Singletons


    Image via Gerber

    In 1974, Gerber got the bright idea of packaging and marketing their baby food expressly to single adults. Called "Singles," these jars were soon discontinued once it became clear that eating pureed meat didn't have much appeal to adults, lovelorn or not.

  • Babies May Not Need To Eat Mush


    Image via Ekaterina Pokrovskaya/shutterstock

    While most parents spoon feed their babies mushy purees, a new trend called "baby-led weaning" argues that babies can pick up chunks of food and feed themselves. One study even found that babies raised this way are better able to monitor their own food intake, and as a result eat healthily and stay an appropriate weight as they get older.

  • Rice Cereal May Not Be the Best 'First Food'


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    In the 1960s, white rice cereal was considered the best "first food" because of its bland texture. Yet since then, the "WhiteOut movement" has aimed to remove white rice cereal as the defactor first food. The movement's chief spokesperson, Stanford pediatrician Alan Green, calls it "junk food"; one 2005 study even found that children fed these diets end up with a preference for highly processed "beige foods" as adults (white bread, plain pasta, potato chips and milk) -- and that's not a great thing.

  • Baby Food May Not Be That Nutritious


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    Due to all that processing which destroys vitamins and minerals, baby food may not be that nutritious. While research on American brands is hard to find, one 2013 study found that popular baby food brands bought in grocery stores in England contains less than one fifth the recommended daily supply of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and other minerals -- lower than the label suggests. Another study of English baby food found brands were half as nutritious as homemade fare.

  • It's Also Great for Sick Ferrets


    Image © Michael Kloth/Corbis

    Pet ferret blogs have long sung the praises of Gerber's Chicken baby food as the perfect sustenance for a sick ferret. So if you've got one of these animals be sure to give him a taste!

    More from The Stir: Starting Baby on Solids: 6 Perfect Foods to Try

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