The first three years of a child’s life are a window of opportunity for forming lifelong, healthy eating habits. Just as you teach proper behavior to a child, you also want to teach a child what good food is supposed to taste like. If a baby begins solid food life from the can or jar, baby concludes that this is what food is supposed to taste like. The taste and intestinal feel of this food becomes the child’s norm. And, for better or worse, the child’s eating habits and desire for packaged and fast foods becomes the norm. He is likely to crave this taste — because that’s what his body has been used to — and shun the fresh taste of “health foods.” The child that grows up with a steady diet of food from a can, jar, or package, gets off on a poor nutritional track.
To get your child off on the right track, teach him to enjoy the flavor of fresh foods before he gets hooked on canned, artificial tastes. If your baby and toddler eat only homemade, freshly-prepared, unsalted, unsweetened foods, this becomes the standard that other foods are compared to. The canned and packaged stuff then tastes foreign to his selective tastebuds. While babies are born with a natural preference for sweets (breastmilk is very sweet), the rest of their taste preferences are learned. (See Making Your Own Baby Food)
Many kids ago we began following the theory that if you expose young taste buds and developing intestines to only healthy foods during the first three years when the child is older these healthy eating habits are likely to continue, and the child has a greater chance of shunning junk foods. We have tested this theory with our own children as have other parents in our pediatric practice. For the first three years, we gave our infants and toddlers only healthy foods. Martha made homemade baby food; few jars, cans, or packaged foods were given. We shopped for farm-to-market-type produce. In essence, children numbers 6, 7, and 8 were really junk-food deprived. What happened when these “pure” children got out into the sugar-coated and fat-filled world of birthday parties and fast food outlets? Yes, they tried these foods. They ate french fries and licked icing from their fingers, but they did not overdose on junk food. That’s the difference. Halfway through the mound of icing-filled birthday cake, they would slow down or stop. They certainly would not ask for a second helping as they began to recognize the signs of “yuck tummy.” One day we watched our children go through the line at a local salad bar restaurant. Like most kids, they bypassed the fresh green- filled adult food and headed for the kiddie salad bar, filled with fatty, breaded chicken, artificially-colored and heavily-sugared cereal and dye-colored gelatins. Yet, after a few bites, much of the junk food remained on their plates and we found them gravitating back toward the adult salad bar. Eventually, they bypassed the kiddie bar altogether. Even children as young as three years can make the connection between good food and a good feeling. Health-food-primed children seldom overindulge, and that’s the best we can hope for in raising a healthy body – a child and an adult who avoid excesses.