Home-cooked food no healthier than infant ready meals, research finds

Only 16% of UK mothers cook from scratch every day, much to the dismay of healthy-eating advocates.

However, according to new research published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, ready meals are not necessarily any less healthy than home-cooked fare.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen compared 408 recipes from the 55 bestselling cookbooks for infants and compared them to 278 children’s meals from major supermarkets across the UK.

The results were surprising. While almost two thirds of commercial products met dietary recommendations on energy density, only around a third of home cooked meals did. Over half exceeded the maximum calorie range.

Overall, home cooked meals were found to provide 26% more energy and 44% more protein and total fat, including saturated fat, than commercial products.

“The majority of commercial meals met energy recommendations and can provide a convenient alternative which includes a greater vegetable variety per meal,” said lead author Sharon Carstairs of the Health Services Research Unit at Aberdeen.

“Home-cooked recipes provided more nutrients than commercial, however the majority of these recipes exceeded energy and fat recommendations.”

“Dietary fats contribute essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins together with energy and sensory qualities, thus are vital for the growing child, however excessive intakes may impact on childhood obesity and health.”

However, home-cooked meals were found to be cheaper, costing just 33p per 100g compared with 68p for supermarket meals.

Prof Julian Hamilton-Shield, Professor of Diabetes and Metabolic Endocrinology, University of Bristol, said that many parents do not rely on cookery books to produce healthy meals for their children.

“This research study examined the nutrient quality of commercial ready prepared meals and commercial recipe book meal,” he said.

“This is not really the same as comparing to home cooked meals produced by parents (as the authors do point out). It is very likely that infant-specific, commercial recipe books are only accessed by a minority of families cooking at home for their infants.”

“If anything, the study does call into question the value of ‘expert’ infant recipe books over pre-prepared meals or ordinary home cooking.”

Source: Archives of Disease in Childhood