The first three years of a child's life are a window of opportunity for forming lifelong, healthy eating habits. If a baby begins solid food life from the can or jar, baby concludes that this is what food is supposed to taste like.
To get your child off on the right track, teach him to enjoy the flavor of fresh foods before he gets hooked on canned, artificial tastes. While babies are born with a natural preference for sweets (breast milk is very sweet), the rest of their taste preferences are learned. Even children as young as three years can make the connection between good food and a good feeling.
Tips to shape young tastes:
Breastfeed as often and as for as long as possible. The longer you do it, the greater the health benefits.
Serve fresh or frozen baby and toddler foods. The less the canned, over-processed foods the better.
Graze on “grow foods,” like organic yogurt, blueberries, tomatoes, ground nuts, oatmeal, etc.
Avoid the terrible threes: high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or trans fats, and any color additive with a number symbol.
Be a healthy eating role model for your kids.
Shape, don’t control.
Surround your kids with a wide variety of nutritious and new foods.
Enjoy happy meals! (But not too many Happy Meals.)
Many kids ago, we began following the theory that if you expose young taste buds to only healthy foods during the first three years, these healthy eating habits are likely to continue when the child is older and on into adulthood.
For the first three years, Martha made homemade baby food with farm-to-market produce; few jars, cans, or packaged foods were given.
So what happened when these junk-food-deprived children got out into the sugar-coated and fat-filled world of birthday parties and fast-food outlets? No surprise, they ate French fries and licked icing from their fingers. But they didn’t overdose. Halfway through the mound of icing-filled birthday cake, they would slow down or stop, and they almost never asked for a second helping.
One day, we watched our children go through the line at a local salad bar restaurant. Like most kids, they bypassed the fresh, green-filled adult food and headed for the kiddie salad bar, filled with fatty, breaded chicken, artificially colored and heavily sugared cereal, and dye-colored gelatins.
Yet, after a few bites, much of the junk food remained on their plates, and we found them gravitating back toward the adult salad bar. Health food-primed children seldom overindulge, and that’s the best we can hope for in raising a healthy body—a child and an adult who avoids excesses.