Establishing good nutritional habits in babies and toddlers.

Photo by David Di Veroli

A recent study highlighted the divide between socioeconomic classes and what they feed their kids and that differences in dietary habits start early.

I would like to say that I find this surprising, but I don’t at all. Good nutrition starts with the parents and what they eat, typically they will feed their children. So if you eat kale, salmon and avocados, you’ll probably be trying to get your kids to eat that as well. Equally, you shouldn’t surprised if you eat sugary, processed food that your kids are more likely to eat this as well.

Good nutritional habits used to be something that was passed down through the generations. Now it takes a campaign from Jamie Oliver to get people to think about what they eat and what they feed their kids.

Two of the biggest worries when you start giving your children solids is whether or not they’re getting enough food at each meal and whether they’re getting enough of the right nutrients. Unfortunately, some of the prevailing wisdom about how to introduce solids to babies doesn’t help. I’ve also been a bit disturbed by some of the children’s food advice I’ve seen floating around and what I’ve seen children being fed. The latest thing I’ve heard is ‘feed your child a bowl of cereal or rice before bed so you fill them up.’ Beyond the digestion implications, what kind of nutritional habits is this advice setting up for children? All this does is teach kids that they don’t need to eat to satiety at each meal. Even worse, their digestive systems don’t ever get a break and the first few hours of their nighttime sleep are spent digesting food instead of on important growth and restoration processes. Digestion diverts blood and oxygen away from your heart and brain, so when you sleep, your breathing and cardiac output are reduced. A large meal or bowl of cereal will affect how restful the child’s sleep is.

I like the French approach. The French think of one of their roles as parents is to educate their children about food and to introduce a diversity of food tastes to them. Food diversification. They believe it takes at least 7 -14 tries for a child to know if they like a food, so they’ll give them the same food in prepared in different ways, i.e. roasted squash, squash soup, stirfry with squash in it, etc. This contrasts with the British and American focus on identifying allergies when introducing solids. When baby J was 4 months old, I went on an NCT ‘Introducing Solids’ workshop and  found that the focus of it was predominantly on foods to avoid and how to identify allergic reactions, rather than on discussing approaches to helping your child enjoy food. It was a bit depressingm to be honest.

I have to admit that that I’m a little obsessed with the idea of having a little baby gourmand so I’ve made it my mission to get J to try as many different types of food as possible. I want his taste buds to experience a wide variety of foods – taste buds change every 1 to 3 weeks so it’s important to keep giving your child different foods. I know it’s often simpler to just default to giving your child the easy choice, just so you can be sure they’re eating  something – I know this firsthand, as my son LOVES fruit and cheese and would eat this all day long if I let him.

So what do I do? I always feed my son when I know he’s well rested. I give him the new foods first and try to be relaxed about it (easier said than done!). I try as much as possible to eat with him so he can see me eating different foods and eating with utensils. I also trust that if I offer him nutritious food and take a weekly, rather than a daily view on what he eats, there will be a balance over those seven days.

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