Thoughts on food

18 Apr

We live in a world where fast foods are the norm. I understand that parents work long hours and that getting food from the fast food outlet is convenient. But … we know today so much more about the effect of food on the long term health of our children. In fact, we are only now beginning to understand the importance of food in the development of independence.

Research tells us that babies can, as soon as they can sit on their own, be offered finger food that they can eat by choosing and taking from what they are offered. This research tells us that these babies grow up to be children who eat almost everything, and even more important, they grow up to be lean and do not have a fixation on fatty, sweet foods.

We should encourage babies and toddlers from a fairly young age (6 months to 9 months) to be independent. Feeding them mashed food and even worse, force feeding babies and toddlers, only create eating problems. Most parents have a fear that their child will not eat enough and will starve. Many parents, when children seem to be picky eaters, will entice the babies and toddlers with cookies and sweets, thinking that something is better than nothing.

I remember many years ago when I was a student in child psychology, we read about the experiment where two 9 month old babies were observed in terms of their eating. The one could choose what to eat from a plate of food presented to him. The other one were fed a “balanced” diet for almost a year. The outcome? The baby that could choose was in a better physical health than the one that ate what the researchers decided he should eat.

Young children’s eating patterns change with their growth patterns. Usually we think of growth and development as a steady increase in weight, length and abilities. This is not so. The growth and development of young children are often  compared to the waves at the sea. Waves come and go, with no steady rhythm. Sometimes a really big wave comes and sometimes small ones. We know that there are certain growth spurts in young children, just as there are times when growth is slow. An interesting fact is that growth is never localised. Everything grows and we see that times of rapid brain growth are often times where children also grow physically.

The answer to the ubiquitous fast food? Prepare food over the weekend and store it in the freezer. Make cooking something that the whole family participate in. Make use of fresh raw vegetables and fruit. Use less butter and margarine. Be inventive – substitute butter or margarine on your bread with humus. Remember that young children do need meat, although recently researchers have been recommending that red meat should be eaten less than 3 times a week. If you are a vegetarian, I am afraid you will have to wait before trying to convert them to be vegetarians. Always offer a variety of food. Remember you are also exposing the brain to different textures, tastes and different types of food.

Please do not keep babies and toddlers on commercial smooth food because it is easy “and he/she does not want to eat anything else”. You are not doing yourself or your child a favour. After all, we are what we eat!

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