The initial years of life are marked with tremendous physical and psychological developments. It is during this period that a kid’s cognitive capacity to learn and develop grows rapidly. This is also the time when children show significant changes in their eating pattern. They go from relying on milk to eating solid foods.
This is the window of opportunity (once the baby is 6 months old) when the parents can introduce foods with new tastes and textures to lay the foundation of healthy eating habits. A 6-month-old baby’s diet can include soft solid foods like organic baby cereal, fruits, vegetables, pureed meat, legumes, fish, and chicken. This is stage 1 of the child’s diet and includes single-ingredient baby foods that are highly pureed and strained.
Build the baby’s palate
A 2009 study showed that infants start getting familiarized with food during the early stages of life when they ingest flavors while in the womb and during breast feeding. After birth, till the age of 1 year, kids are most receptive to new flavors and food types. The time when the kid is started off on complementary foods is the best and easiest time to introduce him/her to new flavors and textures. A study conducted in 1939 showed that infants actually begin life with very few innate taste preferences and a strong capacity to learn to like new foods, so introducing a wide range of different foods at such a time is the best way to develop their palate. So, any new foods that you want to introduce to the kid should ideally be fed till he/she turns 1. This makes it easy and more likely for the child to accept and start liking those foods.
Taste and texture: Why do they matter?
The tastes and textures that children are exposed to at early stages of life strongly influence their future food preferences for those specific tastes and textures. In a study conducted in 1984, scientists investigated the effects of exposing infants to sugary water sugar early in life. Infants who were repeatedly exposed to sugar water at 3 months of age showed increased acceptance of sugar water than of plain water at 2 years of age compared to those who had never tasted it.
Another common reason for rejecting foods among infants is texture. If your kid is not exposed to food of a certain texture at stage 1 of baby food (6 month of age), it might get very difficult for them to consume such foods later in life simply because they are not used to it.
When your child is ready, feed them food types that require chewing. The motion of chewing involves sucking, biting, and munching movements. It also involves lateral movement of the tongue from centre to side, which is texture dependent. This movement will not emerge if the child is not given certain textures of food.
It has been found that children who were introduced to ‘lumpy’ foods after the age of 9 months ate less types of foods (fruits and vegetables) than those who were introduced to them between 6 and 9 months of age. The earlier group also had significantly fewer feeding difficulties at the age of 7 years.
The introduction of lumpy foods later than 9 months of age causes feeding difficulties later.
Introduce healthy organic food for a healthy baby
Choosing organic fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy for your kids is the best way to ensure that they are not exposed to chemical fertilizers used in conventional farming and growth hormones injected in animals to increase the production of meat and milk. Animals are given daily doses of antibiotics to speed growth and when we eat such meat and milk, we develop antibiotic-resistance! Consumption of such chemicals can also increase our risk of various diseases, including cancer.
Here are some of the benefits of choosing organic baby foods:
- Less consumption of chemicals and pesticides that lead to diseases such as cancer.
- Organic baby foods are far richer in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals than conventionally grown foods.
- A study showed that pregnant women who were exposed to higher amount of organophosphorus pesticides (potentially toxic chemical linked to respiratory and heart trouble) had children who had an IQ which was several points below the average.
- Conventional methods of farming are contaminating our farmlands and waterways and depleting the soil of its nutrients.
Pick whole, not refined foods
In the early days, humans used to consume whole grain cereals and not refined grains. Refined grains are milled, a process that strips out the bran and the germ, thus reducing the nutrients of the grain, such as fibre, protein, and vitamins. Whole grains are full of vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fibre which are essential for a child’s growth. It is extremely important to include nutritious whole foods in the stage 1 of diet when a lot of physical and psychological developments are taking place. Replacing refined foods with whole grains is an easy and effective method to do this.
Start early for long-term benefits
As we saw before and as per a study published in 2014, the tastes and textures that infants are repeatedly exposed to at an early age have long-lasting effects on their liking of specific tastes and textures. So, it is important to introduce whole grains to children to increase their chances of developing a liking toward whole grains and their products as grownups. This will make healthy eating easy and natural for them.
Healthy food is the key to overall development, and thus introducing the right foods at the right time can make all the difference in your child’s growth.