Babies, Nutrition

Stage 3 Baby Food: Why Experts Recommend Finger Foods Over Pouches

When babies reach the age for Stage 3 baby food, parent life becomes a whirlwind—as if it wasn’t already! Newly active and extra-curious, babies at 10+ months are beginning to assert their independence and to transition from an all-milk/formula diet to one that incorporates real foods. Tasked with finding a new source of nutrients, many parents are full of questions: What should I feed my baby? What’s the best baby food? Am I doing this right?

Stage 3 pouches may seem like the perfect solution, but nutrition experts say they’re a little too good to be true. Although convenient, pouches miss the mark in terms of what babies really need at this critical age.

The Problem with Pouches (and Why Finger Foods Are Better)

Problem #1: Developmental Concerns

All baby food stages are important to helping your little one grow, but Stage 3 is especially critical in terms of developing key motor skills and speech muscles. Pouches may hinder your baby’s proper development in a few ways:

  • Babies won’t learn to master the pincer grasp if they don’t use it! Pouches require only the hands rather than individual fingers, which prevents your baby from learning self-feeding skills like pinching, gripping and holding onto food or utensils.
  • Oral muscles may be underdeveloped because the same muscles used to chew foods are also used to speak. Sucking on a pouch doesn’t offer the muscular training of chewing soft foods like tofu, eggs or beans.
  • Pouch eating takes away opportunities to learn. Food is supposed to be educational for babies, and purees limit the sensory input that babies experience while eating. 

With finger foods, your baby will naturally develop the pincer grasp more and more each meal, moving from clumsily grabbing with the entire hand to picking up smaller pieces with the thumb and forefinger. Chewing will also give your little one the opportunity to develop their mouth muscles—even if the first thing they use those muscles for is to shout, “No, no, no!”

Beyond physical development, your baby will gain confidence exploring new textures, smells, colors and shapes. The best finger food for babies will delight their senses while teaching important self-feeding skills. Since your little one can actually see what they’re eating, they’ll be encouraged to make independent choices as to which food to grab next!

healthy baby meals

Problem #2: Mindless Eating

Pouches make it easy for babies to eat food quickly with minimal assistance, which is one of their biggest draws. In doing so, however, pouches turn what could be an important learning and bonding experience into something much more mechanical and mindless. As parents, you don’t have to pay much attention while your baby sucks on a pouch…but neither does your baby! 

It’s a bit harder to serve finger foods on the go, but that’s what makes them such a great tool for early development. Your baby will come to learn that meals mean sitting down (not just snacking) and taking time—helping to establish a positive relationship with food, even from their very youngest days.

As a parent, finger foods also give you more control over what your baby is eating. Finger foods let you mindfully introduce new flavors, food groups and potential food allergens in a way that blended pouches don’t.

Problem #3: Expectation for Sweet

Most pouches advertise multiple servings of fruits and veggies, but oftentimes there’s a lack of overall nutrition and flavor balance. Even if there is some spinach in the pouch, it’s typically overpowered by concentrated fruit flavors. Sure, your baby may get a few veggies in their diet, but they won’t become familiar with how veggies actually taste.

Palate development is a key goal of Stage 3 feeding, as studies show that early eating habits set the stage for a lifetime. Too many sweet flavors, like those of typical Stage 3 pouches, may lead your baby to only accept sweet things—leading to picky eating when it comes time for table food!

It’s important to note that not all finger foods are better than pouches in terms of palate development. Many jarred foods are still very heavy on fruit, setting that early expectation for extreme sweetness. Nurture Life’s Finger Foods are different because they maintain a strong focus on protein, vegetables and complex carbohydrates—not fruit. Most of the sweetness in our Stage 3 Finger Foods comes from naturally sweeter veggies like carrots or English peas.

Moderation Is Key for Stage 3 Pouches

Don’t get us wrong; there’s certainly a time and a place for pouches. Sometimes you just can’t beat the convenience of handing your baby a pouch so that you can get dinner on the table or finally send that email to your boss. 

Serving the occasional pouch is not going to ruin your baby’s development forever or make you a “bad parent.” No single food will provide all the sustenance your baby needs anyway, as breast milk and formula will still be a key dietary component until at least 12+ months. It’s okay to take advantage of pouches as necessary—just try to be mindful of how often you’re serving them.

For more information on the best baby food for Stage 3, check out some of our expert parent resources:

Remember that if you need something quick, convenient and healthy for your little one, Nurture Life’s Finger Foods require no prep, just like a pouch—except they’ll work to develop your baby’s motor skills and expand their palate in a way that pouches don’t! Explore our well-balanced baby food delivery menu to see exactly what we have to offer.

If you have any questions about our Stage 3 baby food, please send a message to our nutrition experts at support@nurturelife.com.

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Lara Field

Lara has been working with Nurture Life since its inception, collaborating with the culinary team on the creation of all menus and recipes to ensure they are nutritionally appropriate and correctly proportioned for every age and stage of a child’s development and providing pediatric nutrition expertise to Nurture Life customers. Lara is the owner/founder of FEED—Forming Early Eating Decisions, a nutrition consulting practice specializing in pediatric nutrition and digestive diseases. Lara has over a decade of experience in clinical practice at two of the top ranked pediatric hospitals in the country, Lurie Children’s Hospital and University of Chicago Medical Center. Lara received her B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and M.S. and dietetic internship from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Lara truly enjoys the process of eating (and feeding!), from procuring the ingredients at various grocery stores and farmers markets, to organizing her pantry/refrigerator at home to make it easy to select healthy options, to preparing balanced meals with her children. Whether it be a decadent treat to a hearty, home-cooked meal, there is no greater satisfaction for Lara than enjoying food with her family.

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