My baby started eating solids at 6 months. At mealtimes, I was eager to prepare steamed fruits or vegetables, and we eventually graduated to lugaw with bits of shredded fish or chicken. As the “new mom” vibe faded, and my baby started to become picky, we also began to resort to convenience. It was way easier to rely on biscuits, cookies, and other baked goods whenever she refused her kalabasa. Little did I know that I was setting her up to be sweet-toothed for life and at risk for lifestyle diseases.
At the Gerber Philippines’ event last June 3, 2019, SmartParenting.com.ph talked to Aleli Elizabeth Gana Magtibay, M.S., R.N.D., nutrition adviser for Infant Nutrition at Nestle Philippines about the most important things parents neglect to consider when preparing food for babies and toddlers: balance, variety, and moderation.
Be sure to serve a balanced meal
The most recent Feeding Infants and Toddler Studies (FITS), conducted by the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences with with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Philippines, found out that the diets of Filipino children aged 6 months to 3 years were composed mostly of refined carbohydrates and sweets.
“Carbohydrates are not bad, but it becomes a problem when it is a lot,” nutritionist Magtibay explained. If kids are eating mostly carbohydrates, it means they are not getting other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber from other types of food. It lacks balance.
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“Where are the proteins? We also saw that most of the protein consumption of kids come from processed meats, maybe because it’s easily available and convenient, or we think that it is enough,” she added.
While filling, sweets such as cookies, cakes, candy, soda, and packed juices, among others, on the other hand, do not offer the nutrients that our children need in their stage of growth and development, which could be one of the factors contributing to the high prevalence of underweight, stunting and nutrition deficiencies.
Explore a variety of food and taste
Magtibay advises parents to avoid falling into the trap of convenience and serve kids the same kind of food every time. After all, variety does not always mean different types of food; you can achieve it by exploring different tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bland, bitter), textures (chewy, soft, grainy, crunchy), and preparation (try fried, steamed, boiled, baked) to train our child’s taste buds to be receptive to different types of food.
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The best way to start teaching your kids to love healthy food is as early as pregnancy! Soon-to-be mommies should also keep their cravings in check to set your baby up for a lifetime of healthy eating! “Even while you are pregnant, you are already training your kids to like what you are eating. [It’s like] transfer your preferences to your baby,” nutritionist Magtibay explained.
Next to pregnancy, the first 1,000 days of your baby’s life, from birth to age 3 and even beyond, is also crucial for food training. Eating a variety of food while breastfeeding is a great way to introduce different tastes. (Read more about how crucial newborn breastfeeding and your little one's nutrition during his first 1,000 days of life.)
Remember it will be a lot harder to introduce variety as your child grows older. “It won’t feel natural anymore, and it will require a lot of mental conditioning and discipline,” the nutritionist warned. “Do not give in to all their cravings! You are the parent, and they are the kids!”
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Indulge in moderation
Having a balanced meal and a variety of food does not mean parents should deprive their kids of sweet treats, but indulge only in moderation, such as during a special occasion. If you want your child to eat right, the best strategy is to eat by example. Kids remember more what they see you do than what you tell them to do. Don’t expect them to choose fruits over chocolates or eat more greens when you don’t.
Moms and dads, easy on the sugary treats, and show our kids what exactly eating healthy means and why it’s what their growing bodies need.