May 07, 2014 10:00 AM

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It seems like just when you get the hang of breast or bottle-feeding, it’s time for your kiddo to start solids.

And suddenly, you’re a beginner again when it comes to feeding your child.

There are tons of choices when it comes to baby food, and the options only add up the older your tot gets. So what’s a parent to do?

We asked Kate Geagan, MS, RDN, and nutritionist for Earth’s Best, some of our burning questions about how to best feed babies and toddlers. And we checked out some of the most popular and readily-available organic brands — see their offerings below.

1. Why should we be feeding our babies organic foods? What’s wrong with the standard kind we all ate as kids?

The evidence continues to grow that organics are truly the best choice you can make for your baby. The USDA certified organic seal is the most rigorous set of rules parents have to know that food was produced without potentially harmful pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified foods, or irradiated ingredients. For infants and growing children, this is especially important because of their smaller body weights, rapidly growing bodies, and critical windows of growth and development, which some evidence suggests might make them more susceptible to exposure.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, choosing organic also has another benefit — reducing your exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria. It also supports farmers and a helps leave the land, air and water cleaner and more vibrant for the next generation to grow up in. Even more, organic options for infants, toddlers and children are amazingly affordable and accessible at all major retailers, from Walmart to Target and Whole Foods.

2. Is it more important for some foods to be organic than others?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” as a starting point for families who may be interested in getting the best benefit from the added price of organic. I also recommend that meat, poultry and dairy products be organic if possible: animals are what they eat, and as you move up the food chain, any potential toxins can bioaccumulate, showing up in the fatty components of meat or dairy.  If you are nursing, these things are equally important to choose organic in your own diet, as breast milk can be a conduit for any compounds that mom is exposed through in her own diet. Organic infant formula is recommended.

3. What’s the deal with GMOs? Why are they so bad?

First, the definition: GMOs stands for Genetically Modified Organism. Today’s GMO technique uses genetic splicing — a process of selecting and inserting desirable genes from one species into another that is entirely different and unrelated. GMOs could never happen through nature nor through traditional crossbreeding. They can only be produced in a laboratory.

Second, the science: it’s still inconclusive as to the safety of GMOs. While proponents say there is no evidence GMOs cause harm, there has never actually been a long-term study on GMOs in children or adults. It’s worth noting that over 60 countries around the world (including the EU, Russia and China) have looked at the available evidence and decided that the science is inconclusive enough, and that GMOs are different enough, that they require labeling.

Third, labeling: Should parents have the right to know if something contains GMOs? GMOs in the US food system don’t require any labeling, so in many cases there’s no way for a parent to know. Right now, there are only two labels that always ensure non-GMO is the USDA Certified Organic seal (GMOs aren’t allowed), and the Non GMO Project verified seal.

4. Are there benefits to making your own baby food vs. using jars and pouches?

I think it’s wonderful that parents have so many tools today to help them feed their children the purest way possible in a way that works for their family. Need organic nourishment on the run, or to pack for daycare or after school activities? The revolution in pouches can help you provide high quality organic nutrition in a way that’s portable, durable and super convenient. Want to really savor the experience of bonding with your child at mealtime?

Feeding from a jar or bowl enables that intimate feeding experience (think: “Here comes the airplane, woooooosh!”) while parents can see the leftovers, keeping track of exactly how much he or she is eating. Jars and pouches can also make it easy to help you introduce your children to an incredible variety of different foods and flavor combinations.

But if you have the time and enjoy making your own baby food, there are more appliances, cookbooks and gadgets than ever to help you do that as well.

(See below for some of the more popular ready-to-eat baby foods on the market.)

5. What’s the best way to be green when feeding your child?

Choosing organics is number one. Recycling jars and pouches is also key, to minimize the impact of the packaging waste. Lastly, try to include lots of plant foods-fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds are not only some of the most nourishing foods on the planet, but they are also some of the greenest, with significantly smaller carbon and water footprints than meat and dairy products.

Our Green Picks:

I originally planned to make my own baby food, but with work demands and some wise words from our pediatrician, I changed my mind and decided to go with organic jars and pouches.

(“There’s a very limited time that you can feed your child out of a jar or a pouch,” said my baby’s doctor. “If you can afford it, use those, and spend your time interacting with your child, not in the kitchen mashing up food.”) Here are some of the more popular — and delicious — choices found in stores and online:

1. Earth’s Best:

Courtesy Earth’s Best

A full line of baby and toddler foods, organized by stage and packaged in both glass jars (great because they’re easily recycled) and pouches. Formula, cereals and kids’ foods round out the offerings.

2. Happy Family:

Courtesy Happy Family Brands

Everything from starting solids and cereals to meal combos, rice cakes and puffs. The lines feature “enlightened nutrition,” which includes plant-based and sustainable DHA and chloine for brain development, plus nutrient-rich foods like quinoa and chia.

3. Plum Organics:

Courtesy Plum Organics

This line recently expanded to include hearty veggie meals like butternut squash, carrot & chickpea and “world baby” blends like roasted pumpkin & coconut rice. Yes, my baby eats better than I do. The apple and kale teething biscuits are a great way for her to have a little nosh while we’re out to eat.

4. Sprout:

Courtesy Sprout

Cereals, fruits, veggies, meals and snacks for babies, toddlers and kids. The brand’s baby oatmeal was a standout in our house as one of the most basic available, it gave me peace of mind as my little one’s very first food.

5. Ella’s Kitchen:

Courtesy Ella’s Kitchen

With foods for babies 4 months through toddlerhood, the line features cutes mixes like “Baby Brekkie” fruit and yogurt blends. The fruit smoothies have inventive, tasty flavors, like The Red One: a blend of bananas, strawberries, apples and raspberries.

Rennie Dyball

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