Creating Food Equity for our Littlest Eaters through Partnership for a Healthier America’s Veggies Early & Often Campaign
Square Baby, a partner in PHA’s Veggies Early & Often campaign, highlights how baby and toddler food manufacturers can play a role in providing all children with a healthy start by creating veggie-forward products
As a child, Helen L experienced firsthand the importance of early and frequent exposure to vegetables. Raised by parents who took a veggie forward approach, she often tried new vegetables and always grabbed produce over junk food for a snack. However, now as an adult and busy working mom of two with a son with a disability, Helen struggled to find the time to provide her children with the same opportunity she remembers having as a child - to learn to enjoy a variety of vegetables and establish healthy habits.
When she looked through her local baby food aisle, Helen found many brands featuring pictures of vegetables on their packaging design, but vegetables were not listed as a top ingredient on their nutrition facts panel. Fruit was often listed as the first ingredient, presumably to mask the vegetable flavors with the sweetness of fruit and fruit juices.
Research on early learning of flavor preferences shows that children are born with a natural preference for sweet flavors but that through exposure to vegetables early and often, children can grow to enjoy the flavors of vegetables. Parents and caregiver efforts to provide veggie-forward diets to young children can either be supported or hampered by offerings in the baby and toddler food marketplace.
Discouraged by retail baby food offerings, Helen looked to her own kitchen next. Her attempts to make baby foods at home, mashing peas, carrots, broccoli, and many other vegetables, proved both time consuming and wasteful. That’s when she discovered Square Baby, a Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) Veggies Early & Often partner.
When Square Baby joined the Veggies Early & Often initiative, its products already met PHA’s high nutritional standards. After joining, however, the company participated in a cross-industry effort to design the industry’s first veggie-forward criteria for baby and toddler food products in order to encourage more companies to reformulate existing products and/or create new products with an optimal composition to facilitate increased vegetable acceptance.
Square Baby went above and beyond by reformulating to meet PHA’s new Veggies Early & Often criteria for products that contain over half vegetables along with real food and no additives. PHA approved veggie-forward products, such as those offered by Square Baby, allow parents like Helen to introduce infants and toddlers to a wide variety of vegetable flavors and nutrients from their first bites.
“My daughter is a huge fan of Square Baby’s Spinach Dahl,” said Helen. “I love the spices and the fact that it is packed with a wide variety of vegetable like spinach, peppers, tomatoes, sprouted green lentils, and more!“
It is important to include in young children’s diets, varied and positive exposures to the taste, flavors, and textures of a variety of vegetables in order to help cultivate a lifetime of healthy, plant-based dietary patterns, improve planetary health, and reduce the likelihood of developing obesity and other chronic diseases.
Through Veggies Early & Often, PHA employs its vast convening power to rally partners committed to raising a generation of veggies lovers. Together with its partners, PHA is advancing work to give all children a healthy start by driving awareness of the importance of vegetable consumption for infants and toddlers and encouraging more vegetable-forward products in the marketplace, and at early childhood education centers nationwide.
But there is still much work to be done. Only about 10% of children consume the recommended daily amount of vegetables. As Helen notes, “This [information and food] isn’t accessible to everyone, and I hope it will become more accessible. I know that’s part of the [Veggies Early & Often] campaign because everyone should have access to this if they want it.”
Thanks to Square Baby, Helen’s kids are adventurous eaters. PHA will continue to drive access to veggie-forward options for all parents in all communities. If we want robust food equity in this country, we must find ways to include our littlest eaters.