Make your baby's first foods count

April 28, 2016

Make your baby's first foods count

What you feed your baby when she starts eating solid foods matters, and new research out of the UK sheds more light on just how much it does. Following children over 8 years enrolled in The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, researchers at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Health at the University of Bristol identified a number of different dietary patterns at 6 and 15 months of age and examined their link with weight and IQ 8 years later. 

Families fall into different feeding patterns 

At 6 and 15 months of age, parents were asked about the foods they routinely feed their children. Their responses were then compared with one another, and people were placed into groups, based on the choices that they typically made. At both ages, four distinct groups - or patters for feeding - were observed. At both ages, three distinct dietary patterns were identified: Homemade traditional (home-made meat, vegetables and desserts), Discretionary (processed adult foods), and Ready-Made Baby Foods (commercial ready-made baby foods). At 6 months the parents also identified a Breastfeeding pattern (which included fruit and vegetables) and at 15 months a Homemade Contemporary (cheese, fish, nuts, legumes, fruit and vegetables). Roughly seven years later, when the children were 7 and 8 years old, the researchers measured their IQ levels using standard tests. 

IQ was linked to diet choice

What did the researchers find? At 8 years old, IQ was negatively associated with being fed the Discretionary and Ready-Made Baby Foods patterns at 6 and 15 months of age but positively associated with being fed the Breastfeeding and Homemade Contemporary patterns in infancy and toddlerhood. A large, and growing, body of research has shown us that early exposer to a wide variety of {largely healthy} foods is associated with better health outcomes later in childhood, and even into adulthood, but this study provides further evidence that our first food choices might also impact brain development. 

Put the research into practice

Does this mean that you can never give your kids Ready-Made baby food? That the only way to ensure their healthy growth and development is to puree raw fruits and vegetables? No. It does not.

But the research does provide some guardrails that you can use to help you think about the choices you do make regarding food, especially in those early months and years. Here's how.

Mix it up - Variety and moderation should become staple vocabulary when you think about what to serve your little ones. It's okay that they have their favorites, but working to rotate foods or the meals in which they are served) will prevent falling into ruts.  
Rinse & repeat - Repetition is the name of the game when it comes to introducing new (and old!) foods to little ones. You can begin during pregnancy & breastfeeding, exposing your growing babe to lots of flavors while in utero and during nursing, and then continue when they begin experimenting with solid foods. Each of these exposures counts!
Favor whole foods - Choose foods that need minimal preparation - think fruits, vegetables, nuts + seeds (when kids are the right age, of course), nut butters, legumes, eggs, whole-fat dairy products, and whole-grains (read the label!). These provide the best sources of energy and nutrients and, as a bonus, often require little preparation!
Limit added sugar and processed foods - highly sweetened and processed foods should be limited, and, if possible, entirely avoided in the first year (preferably two) of life. Here are Kizingo we do not believe that any food should be entirely off limits (with the exception of trans-fats... those you should avoid), but when kids' tastebuds are developing these highly processed and sugar foods tend to wreak havoc on their flavor preferences. There's plenty of time for them to experience jelly beans :)



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