By Nancy Gottesman
During baby’s first year, you’ll want to cultivate a diet that protects against obesity and disease as he grows. The best way to do that? “Try to get your child used to a wide variety of foods,” suggests Joanne Ikeda, M.A., R.D., a nutrition education specialist in Nutritional Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.
Many parents, whether they are aware of it or not, are fostering in their children a predisposition for a high- sugar, high-fat diet—the same diet that’s at the root of our obesity epidemic. “A few years later, these same parents ask, ‘Why won’t my child eat his fruit and vegetables?’” notes Ikeda.
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The baby feeding tips every parent should know
1. Breastfeed as long as possible.
It’s one of the most useful baby feeding tips of all. That’s because studies have shown that nursing not only significantly reduces baby’s risk of respiratory infections, bacterial meningitis and urinary tract infections, but also protects against obesity in later life.
2. Go with grains at about 6 months old.
Single-grain cereals will teach your child that nourishment has texture. “If a child has only breast milk [or formula], by the time he is 1, he is likely to refuse foods with texture because he hasn’t experienced them before,” explains Ellen O’Leary, M.S., R.D.
3. Veggies Before fruits.
Humans have a natural preference for sweet foods like fruit, so it’s best to establish an eating pattern with vegetables first. “They have a wider variety of flavors than fruits do,” says O’Leary. “Introduce one puréed vegetable at a time so your child gets used to the flavor.” After three to four days, when you’re certain there is no food sensitivity, you can introduce another vegetable.
Once your child is accustomed to a broad array of vegetable tastes, you can incorporate fruits. Both fruits and vegetables must remain staples in your child’s diet—at least until he’s off to college when you’re not in control anymore! “Fruit and vegetable intake is protective,” asserts Joanne Ikeda, M.A., R.D. “Their antioxidants and other compounds reduce your risk of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.” Plus, fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals that aren’t found in other foods.
4. Babies don’t need juice—or dessert!
At Temple University’s Pediatric Weight Management Program, director Denise Salerno, M.D., reports that she sees 3- and 4-year-olds who weigh 100 pounds. “When we take a history of their feeding habits, we learn the cause of their obesity,” says Salerno. The majority of obesity cases are due to environmental causes—such as overdrinking juice—rather than genetic or medical ones. “If one juice cup is 100 calories and a child drinks three to four juices daily, that could lead to 30 extra pounds in one year,” she asserts. “Kids don’t need juices.”
The same goes for sweet treats. Jarred desserts like custards and cobblers are not marketed for nutrition; they’re marketed for parents! Babies don’t require sugar-added foods— none of us do. “There shouldn’t be such a thing as dessert,” says Ikeda. “Dessert makes it appear that there’s a reward for eating the yucky stuff. Is that the message you want to send your child?” Forget all sweets for now.
5. Mom and dad must be good role models.
A final baby feed tip to keep in mind? Infants are not “picky eaters,” which explains how they manage to triple their weight in the first year of life. They simply eat until they’re not hungry anymore. By age 1, however, children respond to social rather than physical cues. If your son or daughter observes that you’re not eating your veggies, he or she will soon stop, too. “Food is not just for nutrition,” maintains O’Leary. “There’s a huge social component. The more adventurous you are with food, the more open your child will be to trying new things.”
Build healthy feeding habits for a lifetime.