Niamh O’Dwyer is one of several Irish mothers to spot a nutritional shortfall in the baby food sector and turn it into a business idea.
When the Tippeary-based mother-of-two found it impossible to get freshly prepared convenience baby food in the supermarket she went about making her own. Earlier this year, she launched her own range of organic purées, Organic Little One, which is now for sale in SuperValu.
There is hard evidence to back up the argument that homemade baby food is better than shop-bought. A recent study by Glasgow University’s department of human nutrition found that babies had to eat twice as much processed food as homemade food in order to get the same nutrients.
Good nutrition is a growing concern among mothers, says Siobhan Berry, the Dublin mother-of-two who founded mummycooks.ie, a cookery school that helps parents navigate the weaning stages.
She is just about to launch online video tutorials, with input from a paediatric occupational therapist, which will advise parents which foods to give their children and how to give it them.
Finding suitable foods for her children was what prompted Tyrone mother-of-three Shauna McCarney to go into the baby food business. Her two elder children had multiple food allergies — to nuts, eggs, and dairy — and she couldn’t find anything suitable in the supermarket.
“All of the baby foods I found were ‘on-the-shelf’ jars and contained a multitude of un-pronounceable ingredients which I wouldn’t eat myself, never mind feed it to my precious little bundle,” she recalls.
She went about setting up Heavenly Tasty Organics and the company swept the boards at last year’s Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards.
Three products — lentil and vegetable soup (for 7 months up), spaghetti bolognese and minced beef and potatoes (for 9 months up) — won bronze, silver and gold respectively in a newly introduced baby food category.
The Irish baby food sector is seeing significant growth as new businesses try to cater for time-poor parents who are looking for convenient but nutritious baby food, says chairman of Blas na hÉireann Artie Clifford.
“Mothers want to give their children the best start in life...they don’t want to give them products that are older than their babies.”
Now, the Irish Food Awards have a special category for babies and toddlers. It was possible as a result of a new sensory analysis programme developed by the food science department of University College Cork specifically to judge the taste and quality of baby food.
That in itself augurs well for the growing baby food sector in Ireland which will see more new products coming on the market in the coming months.Watch this space...
Working with nutritional therapist Jane McClenaghan, the head of Heavenly Tasty Organics Shauna McCarney urges parents to introduce a wide range of foods to a baby’s diet to reduce the risk of food intolerances.
Veggies: Well-mashed vegetables are a great start. Have a go with vegetables you are cooking for the family, like carrot, parsnip, sweet potato, broccoli, butternut squash, spinach, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, leeks, turnip.
Fruit: Mashed banana is usually a favourite but avoid fruit with seeds.
Pulses: Make sure they are well mashed or puréed and use tinned pulses without added sugar or salt.
Grains: Baby rice is one of the most popular weaning foods. Just check it is organic and sugar free. Leave other grains like oats, barley, corn, and wheat until a few months later.
Poultry, meat, fish: Introduce a little of these from about seven or eight months, once your baby is used to the vegetable mixes.