Teaching your baby and toddler about healthy eating

teaching your baby and child about healthy eating

What is healthy eating? Healthy eating can be defined as: Providing adequate food intake from a variety of sources that will allow your child to grow and develop and reach their full potential physically, mentally and emotionally. Babies are born knowing how to eat. As a mother you will listen to a hunger cry, feed your baby, and watch as she turns away, indicating she is satisfied. This process of getting hungry, being fed and feeling full is at the heart of healthy eating.

As your infant grows you will realize that her hunger is satisfied by food, tiredness by sleep and boredom by activity. Avoid using food to satisfy the latter two and you are on your way to encourage healthy eating patterns.

Whether you opt to breast feed your baby or bottle feed your baby you can still choose and encourage feeding on demand (i.e. according to your baby’s needs). We know that breast milk is nature’s food for babies and nothing else has or ever will be able to compete with the amazing qualities of breastmilk and its perfect composition. Is breast milk the food of choice for babies? – the answer is yes. Is breast milk the only food that will grow a nutritionally healthy baby – the answer is no. Human science has been able to reproduce many qualities of breastmilk in the form of different formula feeds. Breastfeeding is not an exact science and moms are guided by their baby’s signals indicating hunger and when the baby is full. Likewise, if you are bottle feeding, don’t be tempted to ‘follow the tin’ as over or underfeeding can be a result. Aim to stop when your baby indicates fullness and be prepared to give more if your baby appears hungry.

For a period after solids have been introduced, your baby needs very little solid food as milk is the primary food source. Pureed fruit, vegetables and maize/rice cereals in the early weaning stage are easily digestible options and good starter foods. With solid food, too, your baby will give you signals. When she has had enough of the offered food, she will signal the end of a meal, probably by turning away. This may not mean that she is full, but only that she has had enough of the solid food. She may still be hungry for milk.

If your baby learns to eat solid foods while remaining a demand feeder (i.e. on her own terms), she will become more ready to try new foods and textures. Unless your child is an allergic child or has risk of food allergy development, you can become quite liberal as to what foods you introduce within the first year. Work within the following guidelines;

  • Keep foods initially separated
  • Don’t introduce more than one new food at a time
  • Avoid the use of excessive condiments, but make food tasty
  • Keep it simple

Encourage tasting foods from all the various food groups listed below:

  1. Protein foods are foods that build muscles in the body and contain iron necessary for growth and development. Protein foods include chicken, fish, meat, eggs, cheese, yoghurt, beans and lentils. Some proteins are more allergenic than others and need to be avoided if there is a history of allergies in your family. Consult your clinic sister before introducing proteins.
  2. Energy foods fuel the body and include breads, pasta, rice, cereals, sugars and treat foods like cakes, sweets etc. Avoid simple and very processed carbohydrates.
  3. Fats provide energy as a backup resource, however the primary role of fat in the diet is to build brain pathways, ‘oil’ the joints and assist the immune system while providing insulation for those cold winter months. Fats in the diet can include olive oil, canola oil, butters, margarines, tree nuts, avocado pears and olives. Do not be tempted to put your baby on a low fat diet. Babies need fat in their diets.
  4. Fruit and vegetables are protective to the body and are the glamour foods. They sustain the immune system of the body to fight ‘bad bugs’ that cause illnesses and they also ensure our hair, skin and overall appearance is optimal!!!

So what exactly is your role then as parent? Quite simply to:

  1. Provide a variety of the above foods on a daily basis in various forms.
  2. Identify the favourite foods of your little person, and provide these foods regularly
  3. Offer texture changes as your child grows
  4. Encourage (not force) introduction of new foods in a pleasant environment.
  5. Watch and learn the cues your baby /toddler gives when they are hungry, or when they are full and satisfied and respond accordingly.

Remember YOU can influence what YOU offer in your home as far as good food goes. What you can’t influence is when your baby is hungry or when your baby is full if you want your child to be an intuitive eater.

Intuitive eaters enjoy having all kinds of food available when they are physically hungry. They enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, whole grains and dairy products – as well as chocolates and sweets sitting on the shelf and liters of ice cream in the freezer. They don’t need to compete for any foods. Nothing is forbidden. Weight gain and lifestyle disease will not be the punishment for enjoyable eating.

Instead of saying “Don’t spoil your appetite,’ Rather say ‘Eat when you are hungry, eat foods of your choosing and stop when you are full.’ Is this not perhaps the ultimate definition of Healthy eating?

By Meg Faure