How do I Choose Store Bought Baby Food

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 4 minutes

What to know about choosing store bought baby food for your little one

  • What do the baby food stages mean?

  • What types of ingredients are in baby food?

  • Tips on how to choose store bought baby food

Figuring out what to feed your baby can be both exciting and intimidating. With so many brands, ingredients, combinations, and stages, it can be difficult to sort through what’s what when staring at the supermarket shelf. 

To help you make the best decisions, here are a few baby food basics to get you started.

What do the stages of baby food mean?

Baby food stages usually progress from 1 to 4 in most brands. While these stages aren’t standardized, here is a general overview of each one:

Stage 1: These are single ingredient purees in a thinner texture. Usually stage 1 is for littles just getting started with solids.

Stage 2: Stage 2 is a bit thicker and often has more than 1 ingredient pureed together. This stage is for little ones who can handle stage 1, have tried many single ingredient foods without a problem, and are ready for thicker texture and combination foods.

Stage 3: Usually stage 3 foods are lumpy mashes often with small, soft chunks of food in them. Many times, these foods may have more than 2 ingredients. Babies ready for stage 3 are doing great with eating and it’s time to advance textures in preparation for soft solids.

Stage 4: This stage is normally for older babies or early toddlers who are eating finger foods and are doing well with chewing and swallowing. Be aware that some stage 4 products are for older toddlers who are ready for firmer foods, while others may be softer and safe for little ones who are slightly younger.

It’s always important to go with the stage that your baby is ready for developmentally, even if their age is different than the age recommended for that texture and stage of food. If you have questions about which stage your baby may be ready for, check in with your child’s health care provider.

Once your baby is doing well and seems comfortable with one stage, use that as a sign that they are likely ready to be progressed to the next stage.1

Read more: Starting Solids: First Foods and Textures

Ingredients in baby food

The ingredients in store bought baby foods can vary greatly by brand. Some manufacturers may add more ingredients for preservation, taste, and texture, while others do not.

Most baby food manufacturers today do not add salt to their products; however, added sugars and empty calorie fillers can still manage to sneak their way in. Examples of this include adding extra fruit juice to jarred fruits.

Choosing foods with as few and as natural ingredients as possible will reduce your baby’s exposure to these additives.3

Learn about: How to Avoid Giving your Child too much Salt and Sugar

Tips on how to choose store bought baby food

Read the label

Be sure to look at the ingredient lists of the foods you are choosing. Make sure the food you are choosing is the first word on the ingredients list. For example, if you are choosing a jar of sweet potatoes, make sure “sweet potatoes” are the first (and preferably one of the only) ingredients on the list.

Check the expiration date

It’s exciting picking out which foods your baby will try; but don’t forget to look at the product’s expiration date to make sure it’s fresh.4

Choose the appropriate stage

Start with stage 1 foods as first foods and progress as your baby tolerates. Once your little one seems comfortable with one stage, it’s time to move to the next.

Read more: Meal Plan for 6 to 9 Month Old Baby

Listen for the “pop” sound

When choosing jarred baby food, make sure you hear a popping sound (just as you would with any other jarred product) to ensure that it is airtight and hasn’t been opened.4

Keep food safety in mind

Avoid feeding baby straight from the jar or pouch, as this can introduce bacteria from your baby’s mouth into the food. If you do feed baby directly from the jar or pouch, any leftovers cannot be saved, they must be thrown out at the end of the meal.4

If you open a jar and spoon a portion of the food into a bowl for baby to eat, then the jar can be closed, and the leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for a later time.4 See below for details on how long you can store baby food in the refrigerator.

To offer baby food from pouches, squeeze the amount you’d like to serve into a bowl, or squeeze the pouch contents directly onto a spoon a little at a time. Be careful not to touch the pouch spout to the spoon if using this second method. This will help prevent bacteria from baby’s mouth from being introduced into the pouch. To save the rest, re-cap the pouch and place it in the refrigerator for a later time.

Here are the recommended “safe times” for opened jarred and pouch baby food:

  • Opened, strained fruits or veggies: 2 - 3 days

  • Strained meats and eggs: 1 day

  • Veggie and meat combinations: 1 - 2 days

  • Homemade baby foods: 1 to 2 days2

Learn more: Food Safety for Babies and Toddlers

Include a wide variety of foods

Expose your baby to as many different flavors and foods as possible. The more variety in your baby’s diet, the more they may be accepting of new foods long term.5

Read about: How can I get my Baby to Love Veggies?

Let's Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm (ET). Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Understanding your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues: Responsive Feeding

Nutrient Needs and Feeding Tips for 6 to 12 Month Olds

Introducing Major Food Allergens to your Infant