Setting the Stage for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating – a Pediatrician’s Perspective

By :  JJ Levenstein, MD, FAAP

Your baby’s brain grows 180% by weight the first year of life.  This explosive development relies on a rich source of nutrients and drives your baby’s appetite. This growth naturally slows down to 20% by year two, so appetites fall naturally.  If baby has started his/her years eating bland, processed food, it almost guarantees frustrating limitations in your child’s future dietary preferences!

Picky eating can, however, be avoided. Here are 12 concepts you can use to set your child up for a lifetime of healthy eating!

  1. Choose fresh food whenever possible. Jarred and processed foods are often preserved with chemicals, and contains less vitamins, flavor and fiber than homemade food.
  2. If your doctor approves, introduce your baby to fruits and veggies before bland cereals.  Babies love the bright color of produce, which has more flavor, vitamins and fiber than cereals.
  3. Never rush through eating. Try to seat your baby at the table with others at least once a day to introduce him/her to the social side of mealtime. Rushed or stressed emotions during feeding times can transfer to your child.
  4. Vary your child’s snacks.  Replace puffs and crackers with a daily rotation of fruits, veggies, proteins, and whole grain carbs. By the end of the week, you will have fed your child a variety of nutrients, and trained him/her to accept produce and protein as appropriate snacks.
  5. Feed baby in an attractive, well-lit area. DO NOT feed your child in front of the TV.  Encourage your child to pay attention while eating by serving naturally colorful food on/in bright plates and bowls.
  6. Babies are more likely to self-feed when they can handle their food. Cut food into corn kernel-sized pieces for infants as they learn to grasp with a pincer.
  7. Older children appreciate creative touches. Use cookie cutters to cut food into fun shapes for tots. Check out this site for ideas.
  8. If you get sun on a balcony, porch, or yard, start a small vegetable garden. Help your tot water the plants and watch his/her food grow.  Kids are more likely to try something they are invested in!
  9. Engage your young children in shopping. Take them to farmers markets to sample fresh, beautiful food. Help them choose colorful produce for the week.  You may pay a little more, but you’ll waste less when your child feels involved in food choices! Localharvest.org is an excellent resource for finding your local market.
  10. Outfit your tot with an apron and mixing spoon, and depending on age, let her pour, stir, season, and present your culinary creations.
  11. Even though fast food restaurants cater to little ones, try to find child-friendly restaurants that serve healthier choices. Steer clear of children’s menus, which typically offer fried and carb-heavy items. Ask for an empty plate and share your  healthy order with your child.
  12. Follow the food group proportions recommended by choosemyplate.gov. Fill half of your child’s plate with produce, and the remaining two quarters with a healthy whole-grain carb and a lean protein.  As your children get older, challenge them to serve themselves accordingly and praise them for making colorful plates.

And of course, an active lifestyle complements a beautiful diet.  Keep media to a minimum and encourage active play.

I hope this 12-step program helps both you and your child develop healthy habits to last a lifetime! Bon Appetit!

Dr. JJ Levenstein is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics She serves on the clinical staff of two hospitals and has been consistently voted one of the Best Doctors in America® from 2003 through 2012. Read more of Dr. JJ’s advice and ask her your own questions on the Baby Bullet Blog.

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