Everything tiny humans consume can impact their development. So it’s important to be smart about what we feed them. We chatted with Kate Geagan, registered dietitian (and mom to two little ones), about our biggest concerns with buying baby food.

Generally speaking, what should parents be looking for on baby food labels? You’ll want to identify clearly marked stages to find the appropriate match for your baby’s age and degree of readiness. Strained single ingredients, typically stage 1 for 4 months+, enable parents to offer new foods one at a time and watch for possible signs of allergies; stage 2 for 6 months+ typically progresses to mixed food combinations; and stage 3 for 9 months+ usually offers chunkier textures, helping your little one grow into a vibrant eater. Any red flag ingredients that we should stay away from? Artificial colors, preservatives, or sweeteners. Also, added sodium, high fructose corn syrup and trans fats. If choosing non-GMO ingredients is important to you, then look for the USDA certified organic seal (these products are always, by definition, GMO-free) or for the GMO-Free seal. Does a longer shelf life always indicate less desirable preservatives? Not at all. There are many organic options (Vitamin C, lemon juice) that give the food in jars or pouches a longer shelf life without adding any artificial preservatives. Got it. How about packaging? What’s the best way to go? There’s no “one size fits all” answer—families need to balance cost, convenience, and what experience they want out of feeding time. I personally liked the jars because I could dip the spoon in, feed my baby, and see exactly how much was eaten. For families on the go, pouches are convenient and durable. When looking at the “Nutrition Facts” section of a baby food label, what’s an acceptable amount of sodium and sugar? For children under age 2, it’s important to choose foods that don’t contain added sodium or refined sugars. But “sugars” on the nutrition facts panel includes both naturally occurring and added sugars—so it’s not always a reliable indicator. Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits, dairy products, certain starchy vegetables, and even whole grains. So read the ingredient lists instead. Iron is a big concern, especially for breastfed babies. What foods are best for providing a substantial iron boost? When your baby begins to transition to solids, an iron-fortified cereal is a good choice. Prunes, milled meats, and poultry are all naturally good sources of iron. Finally, what are the benefits of organic baby food? Pediatricians, nutritionists, and leading health organizations are all in agreement that the most important first step is to be sure your baby is enjoying a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins. That said, purchasing foods made with organic ingredients can reduce exposure to potentially harmful pesticides. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, choosing organic can also help reduce the risk of exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria. And many families want to support a food system that leaves the land, waterways, and air healthier for future generations to grow up in. Hear! Hear! Thank you for chatting, Kate.