A landmark study, Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, reveals that even kids as young as 12 months of age can show signs of unhealthy eating patterns that foretell obesity down the road. Of course, the study also showcases small and simple changes parents can make early on to improve their child's diet, promote healthy eating and reduce the risk of health issues and obesity later on.
Not surprisingly the study found that children are eating far too few vegetables and whole grains (emphasis on "whole"), and far too many food choices and calories derived from fatty foods and foods high in sugar. I see it everyday, and one example is at the airport, where moms and dads in an effort to make the trip "special" or to keep their kids quiet, buy donuts, and chips and soda and other "treats" for breakfast. Yes, I see this all the time. Now I understand the "special" but frankly these are not breakfast foods nor can I justify all 3 foods and others being given as a "meal" - just one of these choices alone is a treat, if we all understand the definition of "treat" framed in a discussion of nutrition. I also always wonder why parents are shocked when (a) the kids are then hyper and subsequently moody, since the sugar highs and low would to me be "a given" (b) expect their kids to go back to regular foods and not beg and tantrum for another special meal (and another and another) since a regular breakfast will never measure up after this special experience. Need I go on?
The study suggests that parents are making decisions like this from the time they begin to introduce food to babies, so by the time baby hits 12 months of age, his palate is already craving the "treat foods" that may have been given to him way too many times. As an expert I acknowledge that vegetables can be a slippery slope from a taste perspective, since many types can taste a bit bitter, especially to super-tasters who are extremely sensitive to tastes. But the way around this might be offering a yogurt dip or some other healthy dipping sauce or seasoning the vegetables with herbs and other healthy condiments. A second issue is offering children a lot of juice and other sweetened drinks, and not weaning a child off whole milk when it's time - which due to concerns about obesity may be at age 1, unless there is a health issue that requires the extra calories (pretty rare). Water, low fat milk and 1 small cup of juice is the recommendation and I don't know too many parents adhering to it. I see babies walking around all day with juice in their bottles, and I see very little children being given soda on a regular basis - a tough habit to break later on.
Give your kids mac n cheese, hot dogs, pizza and bacon on a regular basis, along with "breakfast" pastries and sweetened cereal, and what do you think will happen? You'll have a very young child who turns their nose up at fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish and other healthy foods. Could you blame them??? The study does say that early and simple strategies can thwart these habits.
*Giving nutrition guidance to parents (hopefully parents will be open to a dialogue and education)
*Use "snacking" as a mini-meal chance to offer fruit, vegetables, low fat yogurt and cheeses, whole grains, beans and legumes
*Stick with water instead of sugary juices and drinks, and know when it's time to introduce low fat 1% milk and/or skim milk
*Limit high fat foods like cheeses, deli meats, hot dogs, bacon
*Offer the superstar foods from food groups like lean meat, low fat dairy, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables.
*Expose kids repeatedly to fish and avocado and other "grown up healthy foods" and use healthy fats for cooking.
These are just some of the recommendations that were published as an outcome from this study. However, based on the recent comments and coverage that high profile news hosts have recently shared, challenging a parent on the choices they are offering their children is NOT an option. It's considered "government sticking their noses where it doesn't belong." And forbid any "mistakes" if they challenge the parent and there then needs to be a dialogue. Parents should also have the right to say to the school, "You are not serving my kid healthy food. We need a menu change now!"
So I then ask - Who will save the children? Who will be the child advocate when the parent doesn't know better? Why are parents so defensive on this issue?
Please weigh in with your comments!!
Published On: February 15, 2012