Our responsibility as parents towards our children’s health begins from when we decide to start a family. How we nourish our children will set the way for the rest of their lives and this platform starts from the moment we conceive. It is only logical when we think about it. Whether you are a dad or a mum, yes dads are just as responsible to contributing to their children’s future health even though mum does the heavy carrying work for 9 months, how well nourished and healthy you are will have a direct impact on your ability to conceive, carry a healthy pregnancy and on that of your baby’s health when it is born.
The balance of good gut flora is absolutely key to a healthy digestive system and overall health and it is now thought that baby’s gut bacteria starts to develop whilst in the womb, and that they are not born with a sterile gut as previously thought. The newborn baby’s gut flora has been found to be the same as that of the mother’s in the first trimester of pregnancy. So mum’s diet is key throughout pregnancy in not just nourishing the growing baby but also creating the right balance for good gastrointestinal flora to flourish. Good gut flora is not only important in establishing a baby’s immune system but is also thought to be key in preventing autism and why Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, renowned author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, has had such success with her dietary approach to healing the gut and autism
Breast milk is the best start a baby can get, but only if mum is in good health and eats a balanced diet. What you choose to feed your baby for the first three years will dictate your little one’s propensity towards eating fresh ‘healthy’ foods so it’s a good idea to steer clear of processed jarred or packet baby food. The taste and consistency are very different to freshly made food and your little one will grow into believing this is the norm for food. Not only will readymade baby food establish a pattern for processed food early on, it is also a missed opportunity to give your little one good nutrition, a pattern that can follow for the rest of their lives.
Do not be fooled into thinking you are giving your children a treat with sugar ladened snacks. Sugar is a non-negotiable for me with the kids at home. Habits like sugary snacks only become expected if you introduce them. Trust me, your children won’t love you any less if you refuse to have sugary foods in the house. In fact there’s a strong chance they will have warmer feelings and behaviours towards you without the sugary highs and lows. Children don’t understand why they are feeling moody and anxious when their blood sugar drops and why they then go on to crave more and more sugar. Sugar is highly addictive and stressful situations ensue for them and you when you have to deal with difficult behaviour, tears and tantrums. Highly salted or sweetened foods in the early years are difficult habits to break later on, so don’t start them.
Children’s palates are formed at a young age and taste is one of the major ways that children first experience the world with mum’s warm milky breast. Of course children’s experience of food is created in many ways; how food looks, how it smells, its texture and finally how our taste buds interpret the taste.
Children have about 10,000 taste buds but as we grow into adults this number drops to around 5,000, so we taste things less intensely as an adult. In a study published in the February 2005 issue of Pediatrics, researchers at Monell Chemical Senses explained that children really do not like bitter tastes and have a higher predisposition to sugar. Two more studies at the University of Western Sydney and the University of Copenhagen found that teenagers’ taste perceptions change from that of childhood with an increased ability to distinguish flavours whilst at the same time having a decreased inclination for sweet foods. This is why it is so important throughout childhood to introduce a variety of flavours and foods so as not to establish set habits as taste can change and although teenagers’ taste buds become better able to distinguish different tastes they are less likely to try new food than young children.
For the first few years of your child’s life you have an amazing opportunity to establish good eating patterns that will serve them for the rest of their lives. It is important to always keep introducing new meals and foods for your kids to try. I know as much as the next mum how disheartening it is when you make a new meal and it’s not well received. It is however important not to offer an alternative. I always explain to my kids that they don’t have to eat something, but they must try it and if they don’t like it I won’t give it to them again. Having said that, if I serve up a new ingredient, for example beetroot and they say they don’t like what I’ve made, I don’t take that to mean they don’t like beetroot, just the way I have cooked and prepared it on this occasion. I may leave it a while, then try the food again prepared in a different way. If you ask my daughter she will tell you she doesn’t really like onions, but she loves roasted onions. It’s all about perception; so don’t get fooled into ruling a food out just because it’s been rejected once. Try preparing it and cooking it another way.
Family eating times are SO important. A lot of my really positive memories growing up with my family revolved around sitting down together as a family and some of the food we used to eat. My mum was a keen cook and would take great pleasure in creating meals from scratch, for which I will be forever grateful, as I now like to do the same for my family. It is very loving to create exciting, tasty meals that your family will enjoy and that will give them the nourishment they need to get the best out of every day.
Once your kids are old enough to eat a little later, then eat together as a family for your evening meal. Establishing food habits are no different to how children learn other skills, they learn from watching and copying us and they can’t do this if they don’t eat with you or sit eating in front of the television. This is also why it is important to have the whole family eating the same food. The whole experience of eating affects the way children perceive taste; so enjoyable, relaxed family meals at the table are key.
Children copy by example not because they are told to do something. It’s no good giving them fruit to eat then scoffing a pack of chocolate biscuits. Be careful about how you talk about food around your children, particularly for those that are prone to dieting. I am not a fan of dieting, just healthy eating. Children see and hear their parents’ talk about dieting and the strange behaviours that can go alongside it then this normalizes dieting behaviour. Talking about the number of ‘sins’ a food has does not create positive associations around food and we would never consider describing food like this to children. I see many people in my clinic who struggle with weight and healthy associations with food and there is in the vast majority of cases a pattern that has been established in childhood, with comments like “I always remember mum being on a diet.”
Positive food messages and experiences have a lifelong impact. My children, now at the age of 7 and 9, are starting to venture into the world of more processed food outside of the home. They understand why some food makes them feel tired and low and how other food gives them energy. It is my belief to teach children what to eat not to tell them and in the process of doing so they will experiment with foods outside of the norm of what they eat at home. However, they are doing just that, experimenting, and like all things we learn in childhood we eventually come back to what we know and love; good, tasty, home-cooked nutritious food that makes us feel great.
If you have children and feel you want advice on steering them towards healthier eating or you are planning a family and feel you need guidance on a nutrient rich diet then you can book me for a free 20 minute Skype consultation to discuss. Here is a link to the form where you can contact me:
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