Research points to the health and nutrition of the to-be-pregnant mother and pregnant mother as opportunities to affect the long-term health outcomes of their children. Maternal weight before pregnancy has been shown to be the one of the most important predictors of childhood obesity, not just weight gain during pregnancy.
Additionally, the quality of food during pregnancy may have an influence on health outcomes. A study of pregnant rats fed a junk food diet found their offspring preferred junk food. Even when they were fed a healthy diet after birth, offspring were heavier and experienced higher cholesterol and insulin levels than rats whose mothers ate a healthy diet during pregnancy.
Moving onto infants and toddlers. Early food preferences are mostly set by year 2 to 3. This means that a 1-year-old who is fed juice, chicken nuggets, crackers and sweets, will likely prefer those foods compared to a 1-year-old who is fed fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.
Then, by age 2, the complaint is that their child is “picky” and won’t eat fruits and vegetables. Parents still choose the foods at this point so the child only gets to decide how much of that food he or she eats.
Quality pharmaceutical-grade vitamins and omega-3 fats for pregnant mothers and children is another cornerstone of good nutrition.
What is the most important thing to create good nutrition at every age? It is to take the time and have enjoyable and “mindful” family meals. “Mindful eating” can be defined as using internal cues from the body, not external cues to eating. It is the art of fostering a positive relationship with food and the body.
Family meals mean no watching TV, playing on phones or texting. It means eating slowly and keeping meal conversation pleasant; honoring hunger and fullness.
Studies have shown that frequent family meals lowered the risk of smoking, drinking, drugs, disordered eating habits, depression and obesity in teens. In addition, teens had better grades and ate healthier.
Nagging, bribing and having battles about eating are not productive. Instead, parents with picky eaters, should role model healthy eating. For picky children, have them explore smelling, touching or licking new foods. Make the simple act of exploring a new food a positive, pleasant experience.
In adults, research has shown that mindful eating may be an effective intervention for increasing awareness of hunger and satiety cues, improving eating regulation and dietary patterns, reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, and promoting weight loss.
So start by eating mindfully and you can create a path of health for yourself and future generations!
September is Self-Improvement Month. This is the last post in our series. Check out all of our self-improvement tips here.
Christine Wood, M.D., F.A.A.P., grew up in Michigan, and completed medical school at the University of Michigan. She is a practicing pediatrician and current member of USANA’s Scientific Advisory Council, offering advice to Associates about healthy eating habits for children and young adults. She has published a book titled How to Get Kids to Eat Great & Love It, which is filled with practical, easy-to-understand information for parents. For even more information from Dr. Wood on healthy nutrition and activities for children, visit her at KidsEatGreat, LIKE her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.
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