By Nancy Gottesman
By the time my son was 9 months old, I had gotten lazy about mealtimes. It had become too exhausting to race home from work each night, feed him his jar or two, then prepare and eat my own dinner (all the while trying to keep him from crawling into peril!). So I cut out the double- dinner duty and started throwing cooked chicken, broccoli, rice, cantaloupe, soybeans, pasta, steak, spinach, salmon—anything I was eating, sans seasoning—into the blender and hitting purée. Voila! One dinner, and we sat down to eat at the same time.
Turns out, my slacker meals may have been the best thing I ever did for my son’s nutritional prospects.
“If kids are used to eating healthy foods at 6 to 12 months, then you are setting up healthier eating habits for later on,” maintains Denise Salerno, M.D., director of the Pediatric Weight Management Program at the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
That’s because food preferences are established early, say experts. The foods your baby adapts to taste- and texture- wise are likely to be the same ones he’ll be fond of throughout his childhood. “Eating is a learning process,” says Ellen O’Leary, M.S., R.D., nutrition coordinator at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “If a young child is given a lot of sweets, he’s being set up to prefer sweets instead of learning to enjoy all the wonderful flavors out there.”
French Fries and Candy and Juicy Juice, Oh My!
Unfortunately, this is exactly what seems to be happening in America, land of the increasingly overweight and obese. A recent survey called the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) collected data on the nutrient intake of more than 3,000 children age 4 to 24 months. The results are eyeopening— if not entirely dismaying. On any given day:
» Twenty-five to 30 percent of infants and toddlers age 9 to 24 months did not eat any fruit, and 20 to 25 percent did not eat vegetables.
» French fries were the most commonly consumed vegetable for 15- to 24-month-olds.
» Forty-six percent of 7- to 8-month-olds consumed some type of dessert, sweet or sweetened beverage (this percentage increased as age increased).
» Children age 19 to 24 months ate junk foods regularly: 44 percent drank sweetened beverages; 26 percent had French fries; 69 percent ate candy or dessert; 27 percent consumed hot dogs, bacon or sausage; and 27 percent had salty snacks.
The FITS also reported that the caloric intake of most infants and toddlers exceeded their requirements by 20 to 30 percent. Is it any wonder that 17.1 percent of American children and adolescents age 2 to 19 are now overweight, and that an additional 16.5 percent of 2- to 10-year-olds are in danger of becoming obese?
These statistics are significant because the odds of childhood obesity persisting into adulthood increase from 20 percent at age 4 to 80 percent by adolescence. Obesity is linked with extensive health problems for both children and adults: asthma, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and menstrual irregularity, just to name a few. For children, the psychological stressors of obesity—stigmatization, depression, low self-esteem—may be just as damaging as the medical ones.
Read 5 Healthy Eating Tips for Baby’s First Year
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN NEW PARENT MAGAZINE, FALL/WINTER ‘07
Experts say food preferences are established early. Make the most of your baby’s meals with these helpful tips.