Establishing Good Eating Habits in the First Year of Baby’s Life

There is no question that kids enjoy sweets, and if left to their own devices, many would indulge in junk food far more often than they should. But it would be a mistake to assume that children naturally prefer unhealthy food over healthy food. If good habits are instilled early, kids can actually grow up enjoying vegetable, fruits, and other healthy foods. It’s a matter of setting the habits early while having a pro-healthy-food philosophy in the household. Here are some tips for doing so. Avoid sweet foods: Make sure the baby has a chance to establish a taste for foods that are not sweet. For example, make sure she gets foods such as cereals, vegetables, and yogurt in addition to the sweeter fruits. Many parents assume that children will naturally find unsweet foods less tasty than sweet ones—and there is some basis for this, as mother’s milk is sweet to a degree—but children under a year old are rapidly forming their preferences, and those who eat plenty of unsweet foods are more likely to go on to enjoy them later. Do not disguise flavors: Because many parents assume that children are not going to like certain kinds of foods, there is a tendency to hide their flavors. For example, some parents, when transitioning from mother’s milk to cow’s milk, sweeten the cow’s milk with chocolate or other substances. Or they may mix vegetables with fruits to make sure them more palatable. But at this age, children need to be exposed to all sorts of flavors, even if they do not enjoy them at first. Use whole grains: Fortunately, white bread has been in decline over the last few years as healthier whole grain alternatives have become more popular, but many parents still operate under the assumption that whole grains are for grownups while white bread is for children. This is a mistake. Children have been eating whole grains for millennia, and it is only in the last half century or so that we have subjected them to the much less healthy white alternatives. So make your home an all whole-grain household. Bring variety: For parents, the impulse to serve their children the same foods over and over again is perfectly understandable. It is easier to serve the same foods, and it involves less meal-time struggle. But exposing your child to a variety of foods now will pay off in the long run and make your job as a parent easier. One of the reasons older children tend to reject new foods is that they were never given the chance to sample different things at young ages. So start now. Expose your child to as many different flavors and food varieties as you can. Minimize exceptions and treats: In the future, there will be plenty of opportunities to give your child out-of-the-ordinary treats. But when your child is a baby, remember that you are helping establish lifelong habits and tastes. While an occasional treat is fine, these exceptions can become too much. The important thing right now is to create a routine. Make sure that your child is eating good things day in and day out. Treats should be real surprises rather than routine occurrences. Create a healthy culture: Rather than simply imposing healthy values on your child, it is important to actually live those values in your household. If you believe your child should enjoy homemade, healthy food, make an effort to prepare your own food as much as possible. And set an example by enjoying healthy foods and avoiding things that you would want your child to avoid. At the very least, ensure that your child does not witness you regularly engaging in less healthy indulgences. By Marc Courtiol