Growing a good eater By Carli Sussman
Are good eaters born or made? While a baby’s individual personality plays a role in how well he accepts new foods, the evidence increasingly points to nurture over nature when it comes to your child’s future eating habits. Here are some ways to help give your baby the best possible start with solids:
- Let him eat steak! Health Canada’s most recent infant nutrition guidelines recommend offering iron-rich foods – such as meat and egg yolk – for baby’s first foods. Meat provides much greater nutritional “bang for your buck” than rice cereal, which is a bland, processed starch, whose limited nutritional value comes only from synthetic nutrients added during the fortification process.
- Introduce textures early. Exposing your infant to a variety of textures as early as possibly just might be the best insurance against future picky eating. A 2001 study of more than 9000 infants concluded that children who were introduced to textured foods after the age of 10 months were “more difficult to feed and had more definite likes and dislikes” than those who were introduced earlier. But is it safe? The BC Ministry of Health recommends offering fork-mashed foods (as opposed to purées) from the age of six months onward, and Health Canada recommends that infants be eating “family foods,” served in soft and age-appropriate pieces, by the age of 12 months.
- Don’t shy away from strong flavours. There exists a common misconception that infants prefer – or can only tolerate – bland foods. This simply isn’t so. Take the French, for example, who routinely introduce babies to such flavourful foods as blue cheese and pickled vegetables. Indeed, there will be no other time in your baby’s childhood that he will be so accepting of so many different flavours, so take advantage of this prime opportunity to develop his palate.
- Offer finger foods alongside purées. Children who learn to self-feed earlier feel more in control of their eating experiences and are more likely to develop positive associations with mealtimes. Allowing your baby to self-feed improves her physical skills, such as her sensory and motor development, and also respects her growing need to develop capability and autonomy.
- Cut back on milk. By the age of 12 months, your baby should be drinking a maximum of 500 to 600 mL of milk per day. Children who fill up on milk are less likely to be hungry for other foods; and a bland, liquid diet can lead to reduced acceptance of different flavours and textures. While milk contains valuable protein, fat, calcium and Vitamin D, it also lacks many nutrients essential for your toddler’s growth and development. Excessive milk consumption is a major risk factor for iron-deficiency anemia in toddlers and preschoolers.
- Focus on habits, not nutrients. It’s easy to get caught up in manufacturer claims that those gummy fruits contain an amount of beet purée equivalent to “one serving of vegetables,” but are you really teaching your child to love beets – or are you teaching him to love gummy candies? The same goes for the temptation to add puréed vegetables to baked goods. If you want your child to eventually learn to love vegetables, you must expose him to the flavours, textures and appearances of real vegetables. So-called “healthy” junk food only perpetuates junk food consumption habits.
- Avoid all-day snacking and grazing. Feed your child three meals and two snacks daily. As the French say, “Hunger is the best sauce.” Children who are hungry at mealtimes will eat both a greater quantity and variety of food. Teach children to respond to their natural cues of hunger and fullness by actually allowing them to develop and satisfy an appetite. Avoid encouraging “emotional eating” by responding to your child’s emotional distress with comfort, not food.
Photo credit: Liz_MarieAK
Carli Sussman is a Sleep & Parenting Consultant who specializes in helping families get the sleep they need. She provides one-on-one sleep coaching, potty training and nutrition consulting services through Cheekychops Consulting. Carli is a well-known parenting, fitness and nutrition blogger whose blog, One Fit Mom, was rated as one of the top 20 pregnancy blogs of 2012 by Babble.com.