As someone who thinks a lot about how society eats but doesn’t have kids, I can only imagine that now would be an overwhelming time to be a new parent. When we talk about what to eat, the conversation today encompasses not only our own health and nutrition but the well-being of the planet and other animals, too. Now take all of that and apply it to feeding the tiny human you’re responsible for? Parents today have a complicated job.
For decades, “baby food” conjured, for the most part, one image: jars of pureed fruits and vegetables that parents could simply pop open and feed to infants. That, plus a handful of other pre-made, packaged foods are what come to mind if you haven’t had to think about feeding a baby anytime recently, or ever.
But like most items on grocery shelves, baby food is being seriously re-evaluated in recent years. While those jars of mush may at first glance seem like inherently healthy blends of fruits and vegetables, that isn’t exactly the case. Many are actually blends of fruit or veggie concentrate and water, which results in the food having more sugar and sodium than an actual puree of that same fruit or vegetable. That, in addition to concerns about low fiber, less-than-ideal nutrition, the presence of heavy metals, and exposure to pesticides in non-organic foods, is causing a significant movement away from buying pre-made baby food altogether. In the last decade alone, American spending on baby food has dropped dramatically, and there’s a growing emphasis on making baby food at home.
From pesticides and additives to questions around sustainability, millennial parents have a lot to think about. And that’s all on top of the age-old concerns of how to keep your little one as healthy, engaged, and well-cared-for as can be. Considering that millennials have been called the “anxious generation,” it’s little surprise that many new parents today are pulling out all the stops to try to raise their kids well. And it’s even less of a surprise that 58% of millennial parents say they’re finding all of the information out there to be overwhelming, according to a survey by Time magazine. As Farrah Alexander wrote in an essay on the parenting website Scary Mommy, conflicting and sometimes judgmental advice on parenting hits the millennial mom from all directions nowadays – books, stores, the internet, other parents – and the wealth of information often feels “crushing.” “I would rather spend my few precious moments of free time listening to Caillou’s incessant whining than someone summarizing all the ways millennial parents are screwing up their kids,” she writes.
While there are rarely simple answers when it comes to parenting, let alone food supply chains and sustainability in the face of the climate crisis, there are a few brands out there aiming to provide good and convenient options to modern parents.
One company, Tiny Organics, is tackling several of these concerns at once. The brand, which is working with the Tufts School of Nutrition, is focused on the role of food in early childhood development. Their meals are designed to expose kids to their first 100 flavors before the age of two, offering a variety of textures rather than just purees in order to encourage kids to become “adventurous eaters” throughout life, based on the recommendations of their research partner. They carefully plan and customize baby’s meals with the support of neonatal nutritionists, so busy parents don’t have to – Tiny Organics is in fact a meal delivery service, sending frozen meals to families to make it as easy as possible to feed kids nutritious and stimulating foods.
But Tiny Organics is focusing on the uniquely contemporary concerns we have about food, as well. The meals are all free of the big 8 allergens, as well as added sugar and salt. And they’re packaged and shipped in recyclable materials like cardboard, as opposed to the plastic jars and squeeze bottles lots of other brands use. At this point it seems as though their packaging is one of the most eco-friendly on the market.
Yumi has a similar approach to food. With an emphasis on providing enough iron and other nutrients to support brain development, Yumi’s meal delivery service is entirely plant-based, free of common allergens, and free of added salt and sugar. Like Tiny Organics, the delivered meal plans are meant to take some of the stress of meal planning and prep off busy parents.
Another company thinking hard about what to feed baby is White Leaf Provisions, founded by a couple concerned with biodynamic farming – one of whom is a classically French-trained chef. Biodynamic farming, for background, is an organic farming practice that doesn’t just seek to minimize the negative impact of farming, but holistically treats the health of the ecosystem. In industrial agriculture, the practice of monocropping – growing a single crop – is common and often more economically viable, but problematic in that it depletes the soil of nutrients and creates a need for chemical fertilizers to keep the land usable. White Leaf Provisions sells fruit and vegetable purees made from plants that have been grown with a well-rounded eye to sustainability, through biodynamic processes like crop rotation that don’t perpetuate these kinds of issues.
Millennial parents have grown up in the age of information, and generally speaking, it shows. They’re not feeding their kids the super-processed, questionably-nutritious baby and kid food of yore, and they want to maintain their principles of eco-minded, earth- and animal-friendly living once they become parents. Of course, modern parents are still caught in the tension between price, quality, and convenience – the best options on the market can be cost-prohibitive at a whopping $4-6 per meal, compared to a jar of Gerber which goes for just about $1. And while making food at home is a good alternative, working parents may not always have the time to spare. If these brands want to capitalize on the concern of informed, health- and eco-conscious parents, they’re likely going to have to find a way to bring costs down without sacrificing quality. If they can manage to provide nutritious, organic, science-backed food to babies of all economic classes, Generation Alpha might be the best fed kids yet.