Monday, July 9, 2012

Food in Pouches? Attention! Danger!

For those of you who had the chance to go to France and maybe enter a French supermarket or witness
school dismissal at 4.30pm,  you might have noticed the little pouches children were sucking in in no time. Pompotes, as they are known in France from the Materne brand that launched them in 1998, have been ubiquitous in France for the last 10 years: most supermarkets carry their store-brand products or other competitive products. They were launched by the Materne company as a brand expansion for their applesauce products. Needless to say that it is a very successful product as most parents have adopted it as THE easy-no-mess-healthy part of their children goûter or pique-nique. To give you an example of how many French purchase them, they are available by boxes of 24 pouches!!
I was so used to seeing them and, yes, occasionally eating one when traveling in France, that they were on the list of the bare necessities people had to carry from France to the US when visiting us to give to my children (along with Cote d'Or Chocolat Noir, Crème de marron, Sirop Teisseire and Bonne-Maman cookies and Demake-Up cotton.)
You can imagine how happy I was to see them appear on the shelves of US supermarkets under the name GoGosqueeZ a few years ago (no, I did not get any samples from Materne to advertize on this website). Needless to say that they are now, as with most French families I know (and the American families that adopted them from the French), part of my children's daily after-school goûter. I order them on in the subscribe & save program so as to minimize costs and make sure that I have enough in inventory for a few-weeks supply! (I don't know if they are sold at CostCo or Sam"s Club but if they are, let me know!) 
More insterestingly, I have followed the non-stop increased offering of additional food available in pouches in the US. Especially babygood: not just the $2 organic fruit-pouch positioned next to the GoGosqueeZ (which, I have to say, had to give up shelving space to fit all these new individually-sold products (read: higher margin for the supermarket).).. but really the mixed-vegetables-plus-grains-and-fruits pouches you can now purchase in lieu of the glass jar (or worse, in lieu of a home-made purée.)
Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against prepared babyfood: I did purchase babyfood jars to complement the home-made meals I was preparing or to take on the road with us...
What I am worried about is the new trend taking shape around me where I see young children sipping on a pouch of vegetables+grains+fruit pouch instead of sitting at a table with their parents/caretakers. Sure, we all have our emergency-I-have-to-leave-now moments where pouches are a good alternative to a less healthy take-out alternative.... but these are to remain occasional. There are parents (read the recent article in the New York Times) who have given up on eating with their children  and are feeding their children food in pouches frequently (children are not stupid: they like the packaging, if not the content! More fun and easier than having to use one's fingers or, worse, a spoon!).  I don't buy the "it fosters independance", désolée... Those of you who used them know well that it does take a little bit of supervision to help a child master the fact that the pouch has to be in her mouth before she starts to squeeze it! (applesauce on t-shirts, anyone???). More seriously, I am a firm believer that taking the time to feed young children by sitting with them, talking to them as they eat their meal, is key to helping them develop good eating habits and table manners! Letting them go around the house with a pouch of spinach and quinoa is aka snacking all day (and a call for a nice green spot on the carpet!)
Where is the structure that a few meals taken, as family, at a table/high-chair provide? Where are the new flavors and textures picked directly in a grown-up's plate? 
So yes, I am the first one advocating the apple sauce pouches as a snack for my children but, had they been available in sweet pea-carots flavor, a few years ago, I would not have bought them (not to mention the fact that they are $$$). So yes to practicality but no to regular meal-replacement. Eating together with your children is key. And yes, unfortunately, like most things with children, the later you start emphazing it, the harder it would be to be accepted... Bonne chance!

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