Here's What Baby Food Of The Future Looks Like
Blue Apron, but for babies.
The thing about babies is that once you think the hardest part is over, you have to start feeding them food. Which is a cute adventure at first when they flash you a smile over some applesauce, but quickly reveals itself to be just another chore to tack onto the endless list. Sure, you can make your own — the actual act of steaming and blending some peas is low-difficulty level in terms of cooking. But add in the cleaning of the pot and blender, the shopping for the peas, and, as a parent on Twitter pointed out, the mental energy of literally thinking about what to cook, and it becomes a lot harder. Feeding a baby is like so many parts of parenting: a constantly changing negotiation between time, money, the baby’s health, the baby’s happiness, and your sanity. These things are rarely aligned with each other.
A slew of new startups are hoping to address this by offering baby food or ingredients delivered to your doorstep. Venture capital is now flowing into what TechCrunch referred to as the “organic baby food wars,” with lots of people putting lots of money into the idea that millennial parents are willing to pay up for high-quality baby food.
And pay up they are: Pricing per meal varies, but for the premade food it’s around $5 per meal or more. That’s more than homemade food, and more than the standard jar or pouch you’d find at your grocery store. (I imagine the target customer for something like this is a household with two working parents who are very health-conscious about their own diet and want little Amabella to have food that’s as close to home-cooked as possible without having the time to plan meals, shop, and cook.)
I wanted to test these out in the field, on a real baby. Would they make dinnertime less stressful? Did the baby like it? Did they actually taste good to an adult? How expensive are they?
So we tested out seven baby food startups on my darling son (just over a year) with a little help from other coworkers to taste the samples and volunteer their own children to try some samples. Disclaimer: BuzzFeed received free samples to review all these foods except Once Upon A Farm, which we just bought at Whole Foods.
Little Spoon is a subscription service for individual packages of purees that come with…a little spoon. They have interesting and weird healthy ingredients (wheat germ oil!) to make it more interesting than a simple puree you’d make at home. Little Spoon had only been available on the East Coast until last week, when the company announced it’d soon be available throughout the US.
Price: Plans start at $70 every two weeks for 14 meals (one meal per day), and go up if you want two or three meals per day.
Price per meal: $3.92–$4.92
Convenience: The containers come with a plastic spoon, which make it good for packing in a lunch for daycare or on the go — but they also need to be refrigerated.
Adult review: I tried imagining the strawberry butternut squash was a fancy dessert at some farm-to-table restaurant, and it kinda worked. Our photo editor Kate tried some of the other ones and said they were tasty.
Baby review: My baby loved the taste of the butternut squash and strawberry one — he ate almost all of it, and was literally trying to lick it out of the container.
Overall rating: B+. Great taste, but not great for older babies who are in between being spoonfed and using a spoon themselves.
Yumi is a startup founded by two women in LA that does a subscription service of plastic jars of purees and blends. Your first order also comes with a free Béaba baby food steamer/blender; founder Angela Sutherland said that the inclusion of the baby food maker was because they want to appeal to parents who want to do both homemade food and the jars. Yumi just started this summer on the west coast with $4.1 million in seed round funding. In January, they are rolling out “snacks” for toddler and kids that will be available nationwide.
Price: $150/month for 24 jars; there are also different options for fewer jars and some price variation for the purees versus chunky blends.
Price per meal: $4.58–$8.33
Convenience: Having jars shipped to your house is definitely convenient, but they only are good for seven days, so you have to use them or lose them (or freeze them).
Adult review: The butternut squash was a little bland, needing salt, but you’d expect that. My coworker Ben tried the borscht and squash on his daughter, and he said they were both bland to an adult palate.
Baby review: For my 14-month-old, this didn’t work out well. I could imagine this would have been a hit earlier on when he still did purees. Yumi currently offers jars of puree and “blends,” which are a mix of a pureed fruit or veggie plus something like quinoa or oatmeal to make it more substantial and a chunky texture. These would be great for a baby transitioning from purees to finger foods and wants to experiment with textures. I tried putting the peach and quinoa blend into a resealable pouch ($13 for eight on Amazon) but after a few slurps, he just wasn't into it.
Overall rating: C. The tastes weren’t great, and the high price per meal made it hard to justify over more easily available organic purees.
Smushed Organics is a Brooklyn-based startup that offers a weekly subscription of freshly made baby food delivered to you in recyclable glass jars. Although Smushed is only available in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Hoboken, and Jersey City, the business hopes to expand into other cities.
Price: It’s a weekly subscription service that offers a discount if you recycle the jars with them. Six jars for $36 or 12 for $62 (minus a discount).
Price per meal: $4.33 if you do the 12-jar plan and recycle the jars with them.
Convenience: A weekly delivery by messenger is very easy, and it comes with a return shipping label to send back the glass jars. The downside is that the jars are only good for 5 days in the fridge, although you can freeze them (but not in the jars, which are not freezer safe).
Adult Review: By far my favorite. The menu changes weekly, and the week I got for the toddler meal was an orzo pasta with feta and chickpeas, and a beef bolognese with quinoa. My son is allergic to chickpeas (truly humiliating, I know), so my husband and I just ate the orzo pasta ourselves, which was actually like, decent adult food! The beef and quinoa was also good — it made me want to try cooking a version of it myself. For the purees, the beet, pear, and ginger was tangy and good, like a fancy juice.
Baby Review: He was sort of into the beef bolognese quinoa, and picked at it with his fork. I put the ginger beet puree into a resealable pouch for him, which he was meh about. My coworker Venessa tested a pack on her son, and she reported that he wolfed five jars of the purees and “chopped” jars down in a single day. To be fair, he’s 14 months, and the purees are meant for younger babies.
Overall rating: A-. Great taste, and good older baby options, but the glass jars were frustrating because they’re not freezable.
Nuture Life is a delivery subscription box of premade jars of food for babies and meals for toddlers. It offers three different stages of baby meals based on age, starting with simple purees up to finger foods with diced vegetables and fish or meat for 10+ months. They also offer toddler meals for 1–3-year-olds, and kids meals for up to teenagers.
Price: The prices vary by age range, and there’s an option for eight jars or 14 jars, starting at $35/week for eight jars of Stage 1 purees up to $89/week for 14 jars of Stage 3.
Price per meal: $4.23–$6.88, depending on age and quantity.
Convenience: Fantastic. For the older baby options, several ingredients (pasta, vegetables, and protein) are all in one jar. You just dump it in a microwave-safe bowl, and a whole dinner is done.
Adult review: The jars looked good — my husband’s take after seeing other purees was, “Wow, this is real food.” The food itself was a little bland (plain pasta, for example), but with a little salt was fine to an adult palate.
Baby review: He went nuts for a blackberry and chia seed chunky puree that I put into a refillable pouch — his gave that little grin that babies do when they’ve discovered something new and delicious and can’t believe you’ve been hiding it from them this whole time. Another jar of pasta and meatballs wasn’t as well loved, and a jar of yams, peas, and corn was served to him cold and he sort of picked at a little.
Overall rating: B. Great convenience, but the taste was kinda the sum of its parts.
Once Upon A Farm
Once Upon A Farm has fancy pouches with healthful ingredients like chia seed, avocado and mint, and coconut milk. They’re available either as a subscription service from the website, or sold individually at Whole Foods. My Whole Foods only carries two flavors; there’s way more available through the Once Upon A Farm site.
Price: $59.76 for a 24-pouch subscription, or $2.99 for a single pouch at Whole Foods.
Convenience: Pouches are extremely convenient, but the downside is they need to be refrigerated, which means they’re not great for on the go, stashing an emergency one in a diaper bag, or packing in a lunchbox for daycare.
Adult review: Not bad! I mean, kinda like baby food, but pretty sweet, like applesauce, which is probably why kids love it. Applesauce is delicious; kale, not so much.
Baby review: Sucked down the "green kale and apple" pouch like a champ. Weirdly wasn’t as interested in the blueberry one, even though he’s had it in the past, and loves blueberries.
Overall Rating: C+. Although the ingredients are fancier than a standard grocery store pouch (chia seeds!), having to refrigerate them makes them less convenient. Their appeal lies in the fact that they’re kinda fruity, which isn’t so bad, but also not an ideal meal for an older baby.
Raised Real is closest to a Blue Apron of all these. Unlike all the other places that ship you already prepared food, Raised Real sends you chopped and frozen vegetables and food that you then steam and puree (or not puree!) yourself. Basically, they take care of the meal planning, shopping, and chopping; you’re still on the hook for the cooking (they include a baby food maker with your first purchase). I initially scoffed at the idea — you still have to cook it yourself! — but then realized that eliminating “thinking and chopping” from the equation is actually pretty valuable. Valuable enough that the San Francisco–based company raised $5 million in funding this fall.
Price: Two weeks (20 meals) for $95, including free baby food steamer/blender.
Price per meal: $4.75
Convenience: Unlike the other things I tried, this is the one where you still have to do the “cooking.” You get prechopped individual bags of frozen meals. You fill the baby food maker with some water, dump the frozen bag in, and steam for 20 minutes, then blend or serve chunky. The baby food maker blends and steams in the same thing, so it’s only one basket/blade to clean. Twenty minutes can be a long time, though, if you’re trying to rush home from work just in time for dinner, or have an impatient eater, and you still have to clean the baby food maker.
However, having everything frozen means you have flexibility in when to use it. And honestly, taking the “thinking and chopping” out of the equation is more valuable than you might realize.
After trying a bunch of already blended or packaged baby food, it was nice to feel like I was controlling the food process a little more.
Adult review: The mix of flavors was very interesting. I made the strawberry-beet-quinoa-basil as a blend and put in a pouch. It had a little bit of the “dirt” taste like a beet-heavy fancy juice, and the grit from the quinoa was a little weird. The sweet potato and mango I left chunky, and it was pretty good.
Baby review: I served the strawberry-beet blend in a refillable pouch, hoping that the strawberry sweetness would make it an appealing treat. But by this time, my son had already discovered that the green refillable pouches always contained something gross, so he pretty much rejected it immediately. He happily ate some of the unblended chunks of sweet potato and mango, however.
Overall rating: B-. The flavors and food were great, and the convenience of frozen bags was great. But…you still have to make it yourself. For the per-meal price point, there are much more convenient premade options.
Best packaging: Nurture Life. The screw-top plastic jars are freezable and extremely reusable. Also good for packing for on the go or daycare.
Best taste: Smushed Organics. By far won the adult taste test. But since it’s NYC-area only, Little Spoon was a close second.
Baby’s favorite: Once Upon A Farm. Look, it’s a pouch. Kids freakin’ love a pouch, especially if it's a little sweet. You can’t compete with a fruity pouch.
Best for toddlers or infants doing “baby-led weaning”: Nurture Life. Their older baby meals were perfect finger food–sized pieces of pasta or vegetables.