Best Baby Food

Updated October 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

57 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
70 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best baby food

Choosing the right baby food is a big decision. Every parent wants the healthiest, safest, and most nutritious food for their little ones. Understanding the different types of baby food and ingredient variations will help you make an informed decision. You’ll be confident in your choice, and your baby will be well-fed with quality food that helps them thrive.

Baby food comes in a few different consistencies based on the child’s eating stage. Cereal is a simple, affordable option, and pureed baby food is ideal for introducing babies to new flavors and consistencies. Once your baby becomes more independent, they can enjoy puffs, crackers, or other stage-appropriate snacks for self-feeding.

Besides your baby's stage, you’ll also want to think about the ingredients. There are recipes and varieties of baby food to suit just about every baby's needs.

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If your child has a reaction after eating a new baby food, speak to their pediatrician. If there's a cause for concern, your pediatrician may want to explore potential allergies with thorough testing to avoid future reactions.

Key considerations

Baby food stages

Baby food is classified in stages, which are universal — so even if you’re buying different brands, the texture and consistency will be at the same level.

  • Stage 1 baby food is geared toward babies four to six months old and includes purees and single-grain cereals.
  • Stage 2 baby food is similar, though it has a thicker consistency to accommodate more advanced eaters who are eight to ten months old.
  • Stage 3 baby food is considered chunkier. It is for babies ten months and up. It contains easy-to-chew pieces of food, which are either small or easily dissolvable.

Types of baby food

Cereal

Baby cereal is usually made from rice and grains and takes on a mushy, mildly grainy consistency. It requires some preparation, so it’s not the quickest baby food to make. There are also Stage 2 cereals, which have different textures and flavors as your baby graduates toward more solid foods.

Pureed foods

You can serve pureed foods to your baby directly from the jar or tub. If your child is in a self-feeding phase, they can enjoy eating directly from a baby food pouch. Regardless of the method of delivery, pureed foods are made with fruits, vegetables, and sometimes protein varieties, which include meat and poultry.

Stage 2 pureed foods are a smooth consistency. Stage 3 pureed foods contain tiny chunks.

Snacks

Baby snacks are usually Stage 3, as they’re individual pieces of food that require some chewing or saliva for easy swallowing. Puffs are the most common snack style, as they are small and dissolve easily in your baby’s mouth.

Nutrients

Babies need plenty of nutrients to thrive, which is why baby food has a combination of nutrients to aid healthy growth. Iron assists in cognitive development, and its nutritional partner, vitamin C, helps iron absorption. Vitamin E and zinc promote healthy immune systems, which is especially important for children who spend time in public or at daycare. Vitamin A aids in immune support and helps with vision development. Calcium is necessary to build strong bones and healthy teeth. B vitamins are also present in some baby foods, and they kickstart the conversion from food to energy — which keeps little bodies active.

Features

Ingredients

If you’re buying baby food, then you’re looking at the label for ingredients, which are listed in descending order of concentration. You’ll want to look for recipes whose first few listed ingredients are real foods, like fruits and vegetables. Baby food is made from a variety of other ingredients, including rice, white and whole wheat flour, grains, meat, chicken, and some dairy products.

These main ingredients are what drive the flavor, though there are others you should look for — and be aware of what they do. Ascorbic acid is vitamin C and functions as a preservative. Lemon juice concentrate is common, especially in pouch varieties of baby food. It adds flavor and improves consistency. Maltodrextin is an additive that texturizers consistency, acts as a preservative, and sometimes functions as a sugar or fat replacement. There are mixed reviews about the nutritional quality and health effects of maltodextrin, so some parents stay away from it.

Other ingredients are also found in baby food in small quantities, such as nuts, soy, sunflower oil, spices, food coloring, and food powders. They’re most often utilized to improve the consistency and appearance of baby food.

Flavors

Baby food comes in either single- or mixed-flavor varieties. Single-flavor varieties stick to one fruit or vegetable. If you’d like a protein variety, you’ll end up with a mixed flavor, such as chicken and rice. Mixed flavors can incorporate two to four flavors. They sometimes combine fruits, vegetables, and meat for interesting blends.

What to look for in baby food

If you want to buy the cleanest, healthiest baby food, there are varieties free from the ingredients some parents consider questionable. Here are some terms to look for on baby food packaging and what they mean.

Organic: “Organic” isn’t a universally defined term, but organic varieties are generally considered to have clean, basic recipes.

No added sugar: While there could be naturally occurring sugar in food, this phrase means that no additional sugar was added to the recipe.

Non-GMO: This means the food was not made with genetically modified ingredients or scientific techniques that compromise the integrity of the ingredients.

Gluten-free: Gluten-free foods don’t contain wheat, barley, or rye. Gluten is harmful to those with celiac disease, so read the packaging and double-check the ingredients list if you’re avoiding it.

Dairy-free: This means that a food item consists of no dairy, including milk, eggs, yogurt, butter, and cheese. If your child is lactose-intolerant, look for this kind of baby food. 

BPA-free packaging: In addition to healthy food, parents value healthy packaging. BPA-free means the container is manufactured without harmful polycarbonate plastics and resins.

"Puff snacks are ideal for self-feeding. They encourage independence and also serve as practice for fine motor control and hand-eye coordination. "
STAFF
BestReviews

Baby food prices

For our buying guide, we examined value packs of baby food in the form of meals and snacks. Snacks range from $0.30 to $1.00 per serving, and meals cost between $0.80 and $2.00 per serving. We’re including a price breakdown based on what to expect for each value pack, as they range from $10 to $30.

At the low end of the price range, between $10 and $16, expect between 12- and 16-packs of baby food meals. These are manufactured by emerging brands and often have unique flavor combinations that are hit or miss with babies. Some value packs of puffed snacks are also found at this price point, and you can expect anywhere between 24 and 36 servings among them.

Mid-range baby food is priced between $17 and $24. This price category includes some better-known baby food brands. They also have between 12 and 16 packs of meals, which include both traditional flavors and ones that are unique to the brand. There’s a greater selection of value-pack snacks at this price point, which could include crackers, puffs, or mini bars. 

At the top of the price range, between $25 and $30, is baby food manufactured by industry-leading brands. You will also find specialty brands that are made for those with specific dietary or religious food restrictions here. These packs, which contain between 16 and 32 servings, typically include the greatest number of varieties and are made with better-quality ingredients.

Tips

  • Always pack an extra meal or two for the plane. For international travel, pack an extra day’s meals in the event your flight is delayed. It would be difficult to access the rest of your baby food in checked luggage.
  • Pay attention to diaper changes. Different foods affect your baby’s stomach in different ways. Pay attention to any changes in bowel movements, especially when introducing new foods or flavors, to make sure it’s not causing tummy upset or diarrhea.
  • Buy an initial jar or two of new flavors. If you’d like to introduce a new flavor to your baby, buy a couple of jars before investing in a value pack so you’re not stuck with an unusable case of baby food.
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If you prefer to keep your baby food cool, even on the road, keep it in an insulated lunch box or baby bag. Adding ice packs, especially compact ones, will help keep the temperature down as well.

FAQ

Q. Does baby food expire?
A.
Yes. The expiration date should be listed on the packaging. When you buy value packs, sometimes the date is listed on the main box instead of the interior containers. If you can’t find an expiration date, though, it’s generally one year from purchase. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so if you’re not sure how old the baby food is, it’s best to simply replace it.


Q. Will baby food stain clothing, carpets, or upholstery?
A.
Yes, if you leave the stain untreated. Certain foods won’t cause much of a stain and are easy to treat, such as cereal or baby food free of added sugar and artificial coloring. Darker and brightly colored baby food, on the other hand, has a greater potential to cause tough stains. If you get baby food on your laundry, scrape off the excess and pre-treat it with an appropriate laundry stain remover before cleaning or soaking it.
 

Q. How do I recycle baby food containers?
A.
It depends on the container, and you should check with your town’s public works for information about its recycling program. You’ll need to refer to the numbers on the packaging to determine whether it’s recyclable, especially for plastic tubs. Generally speaking, glass jars are recyclable once they’re rinsed. Squeeze pouches are usually considered regular waste and can go in your regular garbage can.

Another way to recycle baby food containers is to upcycle them. They can be repurposed into household containers, flower and seed pots, or arts and crafts supplies.

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