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Open wide ... to some new choices

Many parents would welcome a bit more variety when it comes to choosing baby foods. With only three major brands on the market - Gerber, Heinz, and Beechnut - there's plenty of space for innovation. A new mother I spoke with said there are more choices in the cat-food aisle of the grocery store! One newcomer, Earth's Best baby food, is available in natural food stores and selected supermarkets throughout the Northeast. The 100 percent organic, preservative-free, vegetarian baby food is the creation of Ron and Arnie Koss, and is produced in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

The price is generally two to four times as expensive as that of other jarred brands, but some parents feel they are getting more nutrition for the money.

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``We are a small company with big ideals ... and we are also improving the environment,'' says Arnold Koss, president.

For the toddler set, several California supermarket chains (and selected markets in the Northeast) are now selling Growing Gourmet Microwave Toddler Casseroles. The frozen meals, developed by David and Linda Shank, are designed for children nine months to three years old. Each meat and vegetable meal, available in three flavors, is packaged in a reusable, 5-ounce microwavable tub and contains only natural ingredients.

Parents living in the Manhattan or Brooklyn areas of New York have the alternative food Mommy Made* (*and Daddy too), owned by David and Martha Kimmel. Theirs is an all-natural baby food delivery service.

Orders are taken by phone, and food is delivered to home or office by refrigerated storage trucks along with a copy of the following week's menu.

When asked how he feels about all these new products, Gerber representative Steven Poole pointed to the history of baby food. During the early Gerber years, there were as many as 65 manufacturers, including Libby, Van Camps, and Bird's Eye.

``They come and go. We started out with five varieties back in 1928: carrots, spinach, peas, prunes, and a vegetable soup. We now have 187 varieties and market 1.8 billion jars per year.''

Mr. Poole says Gerber employs the largest private research facility in the world to test the purity of its products. All Gerber foods are natural, saltless, and preservative-free. Sugar is used in some fruits and in desserts and puddings. Tapioca is added to some of the products and is used only to thicken the consistency.

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Today, two out of every three adults under the age of 40 were raised on Gerber baby foods, still the most popular baby food in America.

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