Good Eating Habits and Preferences Begin in Infancy

An infant eats and looks at his fatherParents of preschool-aged children are accustomed to devising systems to encourage their children to eat healthy foods. By the time children are old enough to negotiate what they do and don’t eat, though, it might already be too late to establish healthy eating habits. According to a group of 11 studies sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, food preferences may be set in infancy.

Does Healthy Eating Begin in Infancy?

The group of studies evaluated nearly 1,500 6-year-olds’ eating habits. Researchers then compared those eating habits to another study that had tracked the children’s eating habits until they were a year old. They found that children who consumed few fruits and vegetables as babies also consumed few fruits and vegetables as 6-year-olds. The study’s authors point out that a variety of factors—including fear of unfamiliar foods—can affect children’s eating choices. Parents who want their children to eat healthy foods, though, should begin actively nurturing good eating habits in their children between 10- and 12-months-old. 

Helping Children Make Good Choices

Though early eating habits matter more than parents might realize, it’s never too late to help children make healthy food choices. Grace Malonai, PhD, a GoodTherapy.org parenting Topic Expert, suggests parents take the following steps:

  • As soon as children are ready for solid foods, introduce foods in a variety of colors and textures. Continue to offer healthy choices even if your child initially rejects a particular food.
  • Don’t force children to eat foods they dislike, but continue offering new foods so that children can understand that even if they don’t like something, it’s still food and still healthy.
  • Encourage your child to participate in preparing family meals.
  • Offer food in different forms. For example, a child who hates raw carrots might love cooked carrots or carrots served with dressing.

Hilary Silver, LCSW, also a GoodTherapy.org parenting Topic Expert, adds, “Help children develop a positive association with being an ‘adventurous eater.’ They don’t have to like it or eat it all, but it’s great to try new foods before deciding not to like them.” She cautions that forcing children to eat food can backfire. “Never, ever force them to finish what is on their plate. Forcing kids to eat is abuse,” she says.

References:

Saint Louis, C. (2014, September 01). Childhood diet habits set in infancy, studies suggest. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/02/health/childhood-diet-habits-set-in-infancy-studies-suggest.html?_r=0

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  • Marcie

    Marcie

    September 7th, 2014 at 5:20 AM

    This is absolutely 100% the truth! We each our children how they are supposed to eat from a very early age and if you are always plying them with fast food and soda then of course this is what they will always want to eat.

    It is a whole lot easier to start them on fresh fruits and healthy vegetables and no sodas from the early eating stages and once you do thei, this is how they will develop their preferences for eating and that starts to resolve huge eating habit problems that we have in our country as a whole.

  • Jermaine

    Jermaine

    September 7th, 2014 at 4:44 PM

    The other thing that was not mentioned is that parents need to make a concerted effort to make healthy food choices too. This means when you are eating with your kids and when you are not, it is always going to be ebst to change your own personal habits to reflect what you would like for those of your kids to be too. You can’t expect them to enjoy their veggies as you wolf down your fries. How fair is that, and what good are you doing for them to keep them healthy but are not willing to do the same for yourself?

  • veronica

    veronica

    September 8th, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    When we let our kids become engaged in the process, I think that it can all be much more meaningful to them.They feel invested in the process and they will want to try to make meals which are healthy and nutritious but also delicious too. I think that letting them help out in the kitchen can be a wonderful way to facilitate much of this. Let them help you with the grocery shopping and making choices on that end of the spectrum. Let them help you prepare the food that you cook and take some time with them in the kitchen to talk about nutrition and healthy choices. You can also let them help with making their school lunches. Any of this involvement will let them start early in the decision making process and will let them experience what it feels likt to cook and make something healthy for themsleves and the family.

  • Carter

    Carter

    September 12th, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    Children are like little sponges. They will hear what you say and copy what you do, so why not give them healthy messages instead of the junk that we so often do? We are what we eat, the adage is true, and if you start at an early age just giving them things that are healthy then guess what? This is what their prefernces will be! And when they are faced with all of the temptations later on that will not have as much of an impact on them because they have already with your help established solid healthy eating habits early on.

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