Starting Healthy Eating Habits in the First Year of Life
How early can parents start thinking about healthy eating habits?
Infancy and toddlerhood are important time periods to set the foundation for healthy eating, sleep, and activity patterns that can decrease risk of childhood overweight or obesity. A growing body of evidence suggests that the earlier infants and parents start implementing healthy eating habits including understanding age-appropriate portions and avoiding practices that introduce excess calories, the more likely the child will have health growth and health weight in each phase of development. So-it’s really never too early to start!
What foods and what feeding practices are recommended for infants in the 1st year of life?
It is always best to speak to your pediatrician or healthcare provider with detailed questions regarding the introduction of solids and general feeding practices as each infant’s needs may differ. However, the table below can help guide parents around what foods to offer and during what developmental period to promote health eating habits early on.
What are other ways to encourage early eating habits from the start?
- Make meal time a fun and social event! Allowing your infant to explore new foods, textures and flavors is part of healthy development and sharing it with you is beneficial to both baby and parent. Whenever possible, help your child associate feeding with a social mealtime interaction. Avoid associating mealtime with TVs/screens or toys that could distract your infant from eating and enjoying the experiences of eating together.
- Use a baby spoon/baby utensil when introducing solids. This helps with motor development as well as promotes the time needed to feel full with a meal. Avoid putting cereal and foods in the baby bottle as it promotes the infant overeating and having less of a chance to feel full. For more information on hunger and fullness cues click here.
- Avoid or limit use of pre-prepared baby foods with sugars and additives. Whenever possible, use plain foods (meats, fruits, vegetables) and mix them together yourself.
- Remember that portions offered in packages are often much larger than what is recommended for an age group. Pay attention to portions! It may be best to scoop out 1-2 TBSP of baby food from jar and allow your infant to ask for more than serving the full jar.
- It can take babies 10-15 times of trying a new food before he or she accepts it. Continue offering new foods to your baby to help develop lifelong healthy eating habits
What foods should be avoided in the first year?
Some foods are known to cause nutritional risks for infants and should be avoided until the 1st birthday. Similarly, some foods can pose a risk for choking and should only be introduced once developmentally ready (e.g. presence of upper and lower teeth, ability to chew well)
Cow’s milk, goat’s milk or soy milk
Peanut butter or other “sticky” foods
Foods containing added sugars
Hard foods that may cause choking (hot dogs, popcorn, raw fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots)
Fruit juice (Even drinks that are labeled 100% juice have significant amounts of added sugars that are not recommended in this age group).
Your infant’s first year is an incredibly exciting time where each stage of development is an opportunity to promote healthy eating patterns! Keeping these practices in mind can help you avoid some common challenges related to infant nutrition, growth and development. Be sure to ask you healthcare provider about your child’s growth during your routine check-ups and be sure to keep visiting the JHACH HWI for more information.