Raising healthy kids is a common goal that all parents share. But what if your best intentions were undermined by insidious pitfalls that you never saw coming? Nutrition Nanny reveals the top 5 pitfalls that take our kids off track to healthy futures - and sets them on course to unhealthy habits, weight gain and obesity.
1.) Eating too much junk food during pregnancy.
This is a biggie! While cravings of sugar, fat and salt may seem too tempting to resist, keep in mind that you are not dining alone! And according to researchers at the Monnell Chemical Senses Center, your food choices actually create a "flavor bridge" to your baby's future food preferences! An while an unborn baby cannot necessarily decipher what those flavors are, they do become accustomed to them with repeated exposure. Down the road, this flavor bridge could lead to the land of big troubles with an exacerbated preference and appetite for junk food!
The good news is, flavor bridging also occurs with healthy foods, too! Research has shown that the babies of mothers who regularly ate vegetables during their pregnancy had a quicker acceptance to those same veggies during solid introduction. So take advantage of the opportunity to give your child a head start on healthy habits by walking the walk - and EAT YOUR VEGGIES!
2.) Bottlefeeding Blunders
There is now a considerable body of evidence which supports the notion that "programming" obesity may begin very early in life. The occurs during the programming of the appetite center in our brains, which takes place during the first few months of life and is in direct response to our feeding environment and feeding experiences. Appetite regulation is dependent upon an infant's ability to listen to his or her own innate hunger and fullness cues, and because breastfed babies tend to be more in control of their own intake, this process is less likely to be disrupted. But for the bottlefed baby, these cues are often over-ridden by the hand that is holding the bottle. Encouraging a baby to finish a bottle, and other mismanaged feeding practices can undermines this very sensitive programming period, and could have a long-lasting effect on their appetite regulation.
If you are bottle feeding, the best thing you can do is to familiarize yourself with your baby's feeding cues, and try to limit the distractions around you and your baby during those precious feeding moments!
3.) Starting Solids Too Soon
Despite the old wives tale handed down from our mothers and grandmothers, introducing cereal in the first few months of life does NOT make your baby sleep better! What it does do, aside from putting them at risk for food allergies later on in life, is provide them with more than enough calories and unnecessary weight gain! Rapid weight gain during the first few months of life has been associated with increased risks of obesity later on in childhood, according to a prospectus study published online in Pediatrics.
The introduction to solids guidelines, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is as follows: For breastfed infants, introducing solids should begin anytime after 6 months; and for the bottle-fed baby, solid introduction can begin after 5 months. But if you are concerned about your baby's weight or nutritional intake, talk with your Pediatrician.
4.) The abrupt transition to "toddler cuisine"
This just might be the single greatest pitfall that even the most well intended of us parents fall into: "Toddler Cuisine". Rotating meals of macaroni & cheese, chicken nuggets and hot dogs may get our toddlers to settle down and eat, but it's also setting them up for a potential disaster: poor nutrition and obesity. And here's how:
We are all born with innate preferences to sweet, salty and calorically dense (fat) foods. When we eat these types of palatable foods, we're actually rewarded for doing so in the form of "feel good" chemicals released in our brains (hence the term "comfort foods"). This chemical "reward" to palatable foods is part of our evolutionary inheritance, but one that has not evolved nearly at the rate as our highly processed modern diet! In just the past 30 years, many of our processed foods have been engineered and chemically concocted to be sweeter, saltier, richer. The use of artificial flavors, additives and sweeteners provides a greater "reward" for consumers, who in turn are driven to eat more and buy more, and repeat consumption drives big profits for the food makers.
And when it comes to building brand loyalty, no population is spared - including our children. Many of the foods that are made and heavily marketed to our young children are made to be hyper-palatable, and contain excessive amounts of sodium, sugar and fat. And when toddlers are transitioned onto this hyper-palatable diet from a relatively bland and pureed infant diet, it's like switching from a black and white TV to a high-definition plasma home theater: it's awfully hard to be satisfied with anything less. In other words - don't set the bar so high as to completely undermine the semblance of a healthy diet.
5.) The Snack & Juice Juggling Act
Anywhere between the ages of 1 and 3, our autonomous toddlers begin to push the boundaries for a little control and independence. But because other milestones are often still developing - such as speech and concepts - understanding their needs is often challenging. And because of that, our toddlers often choose a form of communication that we can understand - such as defiance and tantrums. For us parents, this is often a frustrating and exhausting stage, so we learn to pick our battles. And in doing so, toddlers learn pretty quickly what they can and can't get away with.
For some reason, food seems to be one of those "easy buttons" for toddlers to push, and it appears that in many households today, the snack drawer has become "Autonomy Headquarters". Giving in to constant demands for snacks and juice may make our lives easier in the moment, but unfortunately it's setting our little ones up for unhealthy habits that will be harder to break down the road. In addition to many negative consequences, grazing on snacks and juice throughout the day can affect a young child's intake at mealtime, when the majority of their daily needs are provided. While this may not be a big issue "once-in-a-while", habitual grazing could lead to deficiencies in nutrients necessary for growth and development..
This stage in toddlerhood can actually be an amazing opportunity to teach our young children healthy preferences and behaviors that can last throughout their lives! Giving them some control over snack time can be a very empowering experience, and making healthy choices FUN forges positive associations with healthy foods. (Or, you can turn your household's juggling act around with The SnackTime Survival Kit !)
The reality is, there's no silver bullet to raising healthy eaters. Our children's journey to developing healthy food preferences begin long before birth - and can continue throughout life! Avoiding these unforeseen pitfalls can help you and your child stay the course to healthy habits and healthy futures!
Tweet it! Share it! Pass it on! ~ NN