Thursday, March 10, 2011

Start Healthy Habits with Your Baby

This post is an excerpt from the article "First Foods" in the spring/summer 2010 issue of Baby & Toddler.

Here's good nutrition news: Infants are being breastfed longer, and fewer babies and toddlers are eating sweets than earlier in this decade. The bad news: Many toddlers aren't eating a single serving of vegetables or fruit on any given day and are consuming too much saturated fat. So says the 2008 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), a report on eating habits of 3,378 children age 0 to 4 years. More highlights of the report:

photo by Francois Carstens
>> Seventeen percent of 6- to 8-month-olds had a sugary drink or sweet on a given day versus 36 percent in 2002. Among 9- to 11-month-olds, it was 43 percent in 2008 and 59 percent in 2002.
>> Fourteen percent of 12- to 14-month-olds consume sugary drinks; 29 percent of 18- to 20-month-olds do.
>> Twenty-five percent of older infants and toddlers don't eat a single serving of fruit on a given day; 30 percent don't eat a serving of vegetables.
>> Twenty-three percent of 12- to 14-month-olds and 33 percent of 3- to 4-year-olds have diets that comprise less than the recommended 30 to 40 percent of calories from fat; 75 percent of preschoolers are getting to much saturated fat.

Experts conclude that more vigilance is needed during the transition from breast milk and baby foods to table foods. "This has to do with parents' eating habits," says pediatrician Alanna Kramer, MD, of St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. "If mom and dad are eating well, kids will, too." The foods you serve your child now lay the foundation for his eating habits for the rest of his life. Here's how to start your baby's diet off right. . . .

Offer veggies before fruits. "If a baby is exposed to the sweetness of fruits first, she may not like vegetables the first time," says Hotle [a pediatric dietician at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville]. Good starter vegetables include green beans, sweet potatoes, and peas. Eight- to 9-month-olds can start eating pureed meats.

Mix solids with breast milk. A study in Pediatric Research found that breastfed infants showed increased acceptance of new foods when they were mixed with mom's milk. Combine it with veggies, fruits and meats as well as cereal.

Avoid sugary foods entirely. Infants less than 1 year old should not consume soda, juices or desserts. . . .

1-2 Years

. . . According to the FITS report, French fries are still the most popular "vegetable" in this age group, while as many as 30 percent of all toddlers don't eat any vegetables at all! . . . "It's a reflection of how the adults around them eat, " explains pediatric dietitian Ashley B. Hotle. To get your toddler (and you!) on the right diet track, heed these guidelines:

Dish up a fruit and a vegetable at every meal. You can go the stealth route by chopping spinach into pasta sauce and pureeing cooked broccoli, carrots or cauliflower into a dip served with crackers. But you don't have to! A study in the journal Food Quality and Preference found that you need to serve a spurned vegetable nine to eleven times before a child will accept it. Nine months after the study, the toddlers were still eating the initially disliked veggie. The lesson? Don't give up after just one or two attempts.

Serve healthy fats. The FITS found that 1- to 2-year-olds were not getting enough good fat in their diets. "Toddlers need fat for brain and eye development," says Hotle. "If the fat content of their diet is too low, it probably means they're getting too much energy from juice and processed carbs." Good fats at this age include oily fish, avocados, nut butters, meat and whole milk. Switch your child to 2 percent milk when he is 2 to 3 years old.

Involve kids in the process. "Toddlers will be more excited about eating food if they help you pick it out at the store or help you prepare it in the kitchen," says pediatrician Alanna Kramer.

Limit sweets. Treats should be just that--not a daily event! Do not serve dessert regularly, and keep juice intake to 4 ounces daily. "Water and milk are what their bodies need," stressed Kramer.

The prevalence of food allergies in children under 18 years old increased 18 percent from 1997 to 2007, according to a new study in Pediatrics. Wait until your child is at least 1 year old to introduce the most allergenic foods: milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, soy, and shellfish---unless there's a family history of food allergies, says Alanna Kramer, MD. In that case, wait until he's 2 or 3. . . . The good news: Most kids outgrow food allergies by the time they're 4 to 5 years old.

--Nancy Gottesman


Alexandra said...

Awesome post! Thank you for sharing this info. Nutrition is so important to me, especially for my son.

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