Helping children develop good eating habits starts at infancy. New feeding guidelines have been released that can help caregivers know what and how best to feed infants and toddlers. These guidelines help make sure that children are getting enough, but not too much of the right foods, so we can reduce their risk of developing health problems later in life.
A report released by Healthy Eating Research (HER) explains the importance of shaping food preferences in infancy. Parents and caregivers shape food preferences through the food they introduce to the toddler early in life, specifically with repeated exposure to new and different foods like fruits and vegetables. There are two main ways to do this—through complementary feeding and responsive feeding practices.
Complementary feeding refers to the time where infants transition from breast milk and formula, to a combination of pureed fruits or vegetables and breast milk or formula (around 6 months), and then to food that encompasses the full family diet by age 2.
Responsive feeding describes the exchange between the caregiver and the infant/toddler during mealtime. It can be broken down into three steps: (1) the child signals hunger; (2) the caregiver recognizes the cues and responds promptly; and (3) the child experiences a predictable response to signals. This engaging process ensures that the caregiver looks for signs that the infant is full so the she does not overeat, and for the infant to understand that mealtime should end when she feels full, so she learns to trust her body to tell her that she has had enough to eat.
The guidelines also present recommendations for cues that indicate hunger. Feeding to soothe fussy infants has been associated with excessive weight gain; therefore, crying should only be interpreted as a sign of hunger only if there are additional cues. These cues progress from primarily oral and more subtle during early infancy to more active, such as reaching and pointing, as the child ages.
Ensuring that the child is not only learning about healthy mealtime practices, but also is eating the right foods is crucial for shaping proper food preferences. Often multiple attempts are needed for infants to eat vegetables, however pairing this food with a familiar sauce or dip might make the process more enjoyable for both the caregiver and the child.
HER will be hosting a webinar on the latest feeding guidelines for infants and toddlers on March 7 at 11 a.m. EST. Visit their website to find out how you can sign up.