For new parents, a visit to the baby food aisle can be overwhelming. Should their child be eating fruits or vegetables first? Is their toddler getting all of the nutrition he needs?
Now parents have a new question to ask pediatricians: Should my child be eating organic baby foods? Mainstream companies such as Earth's Best and Gerber now offer complete lines of organic baby foods, from "1st foods" to finger foods and drinks. Larger retail stores are also entering the market with store brand organic foods.
"There are a lot of people who have questions about organics today," said Kim Otto, a pediatric nurse practitioner at St. Luke's Health Center in Nesquehoning and Hometown. "There is certainly concern about the foods that we feed our children."
Parents feed their children organic baby and finger foods for the same reasons that they choose organic foods for themselves. They may be concerned about chemical or pesticide consumption, especially in young children. Others believe that organically-grown foods are better for the environment.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has not issued any statements regarding organic foods, and has not declared that organic foods may be better for children. By remaining silent on the topic, parents must make their own decisions about the family diet.
"It's difficult to say what products are best, because of that," said Otto. "It's a personal choice. Some people choose to do this, because they have a big commitment to reducing the amount of chemicals in their diets. And that's OK."
She added that parents should not feel guilty if they cannot afford organic foods or choose to feed their family traditionally-grown foods. It can be difficult to find foods for an all-organic diet, especially if your child is a picky eater. Organic baby foods and finger foods also cost about 20 percent more than non-organic products.
"There are good things about going organic, but it's expensive and it's a lot of work," she added.
As Otto works with local parents, her main goal is to ensure that children get the mix of nutrients that they need to grow and develop. She encourages parents to supply a healthy mix of foods for their child that meet the family's values whether that means serving organic foods or traditionally-grown products.
"You really worry about your children getting the right foods and nutrients," she added. "Be flexible, because kids are fussy. It's difficult, and you can be comforted by the fact that every parents struggles with this problem. We spend a lot of time counseling on feeding.
"It's a personal choice," she emphasized. "A lot of parents feel that if they can afford organic products, they will keep that commitment. But there shouldn't be guilt associated with not giving your children organic foods if you can't afford it, and if you don't want to."