But in a study by the University of Melbourne, food and drink given to 466 babies was traced from birth to 20 months of age and found many Australian kidlets are consuming stuff that won’t set their health up for success.
The researchers found infants aged 18-20months ate less core, healthy foods and more discretionary items on a regular basis. Some started such foods as early as 6-8months of age!3
Keeping in mind it is recommended that kids under the age of 2 not be given added sugars at all, for kids aged 18-20months almost 20% were given chocolate, lollies, and muesli bars; 30% sweet biscuits, and 80% savoury biscuits (which are also a source of added sugar) at least twice per week.
Soft drink, cordial and juice consumption increased with age, and other foods fed to littlies included ice cream, Nutella, jam, muesli bars, chocolates and lollies, as well as salty or processed foods like hot chips or luncheon meats.
On the upside, water and full-fat milk were given to 93.8% and 64% of 18-20months olds respectively, but many kids were not consuming core foods each day. The results indicated that by 18-20months discretionary items began to displace core foods.
Core foods are required for our kid’s proper development, nourishing and supporting growth, brains and immunity, while protecting against excessive weight gain and malnutrition. And giving the kids a taste for healthy, core foods begins very early on.
Kids palate, preference and later in life habits
Did you know that flavours molecules from the mother’s diet can be passed to a baby through amniotic fluid and breastmilk? Flavour appreciation school starts early!4
Food preference in later life, however, may be shaped at the age where solid foods are introduced.
We are continually learning about factors that can drive and shape eating preference. Kids tend to prefer foods high in sugar, salt and energy. Yet exploring different food tastes, textures and flavors are exciting, and learning is enhanced through things like repetitive exposure, especially to a variety of flavours; the context of their meal-time; and the consequences experienced post-meal. 1-2;5
But despite parents best efforts to persist with repeatedly serving a variety of foods and flavors, in the face of food industry’s very clever, very influential marketing, a battle ground for kids as they get older can begin to be laid.
One recent example came in a study by the University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW that found children were exposed to three unhealthy food advertisements for every hour of TV watched during peak periods. Sadly, the findings were unchanged compared to a similar analysis from 2011.6
The rules around what and when food and drink are advertised to kids is self-regulated by the food industry, and it seems they are failing to meet their own measures.
“The definitions of what constitutes ‘unhealthy food’ and when an ad is considered ‘advertising to children’ are not protecting children,” said Wendy Watson, nutrition programs manager at Cancer Council NSW.
The study found 44% of the ads were of unhealthy foods, and 21% promoted products from fast food companies. In order for food industry companies to be considered as advertising to children over 35% of the audience needs to be kids. The study found when watching a footy match, ads reached 40,000 kids in NSW alone. That is a lot, though they only made up 10% of the total audience.
Such exposure and influence can make it hard to direct our kid’s eating desires. But what happens before they are exposed to marketing influence in the home as an infant can make a big difference to battles later on.
It may not be easy
With tight budgets, super busy schedules, and the drive to do and be more for our kids, sometimes the mealtime battleground or finding the time to cook is just too much.
A recent poll from the University of Michigan found though a majority of the 1,767 parents surveyed knew what to feed their kids, only one-third served it up. Worryingly, around 1 in 5 parents believe it’s only somewhat or not important to limit junk food and fast food, and to have children learn to eat different foods.
Yet, nearly all the parents believed eating habits in early life can have a lifelong impact.
Food preference and eating habits may have long-term influence, but may not necessarily be set in stone. Getting a fussy eater to eat what you think is best for them can be trying! Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are having trouble getting a vegetable into your kid’s gob.
While the occasional treat for children is okay, junk and discretionary foods should be just that – occasional – and ideally avoided in infants under 2 years. Ultimately feeding the little one a variety of real, whole foods over sugar-laden and heavily processed, packaged stuff is optimal.1
Check out ideas on how to eat well on a budget, survive fussy eaters, and plenty of quick and easy recipes in our books, e-books and on the website for some ideas and inspiration that may help alter food preference for the better.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- De Cosmi, V Scaglioni, S & Agostoni, C 2017, ‘Early Taste Experiences and Later Food Choices’, Nutrients, 4, no. 9, pp.2.
- Nicklaus, S 2016, ‘Complementary Feeding Strategies to Facilitate Acceptance of Fruits and Vegetables: A Narrative Review of the Literature’, International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, vol. 13, no. 11.
- Amezdroz, E, Carpenter, L, O’Callaghan, E, Johnson, S, & Waters, E 2015, ‘Transition from milks to the introduction of solid foods across the first 2 years of life: findings from an Australian birth cohort study’, Journal Of Human Nutrition And Dietetics: The Official Journal Of The British Dietetic Association, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 375-383.
- Ventura, A, & Worobey, J 2013, ‘Review: Early Influences on the Development of Food Preferences’, Current Biology, vol. 23, pp. R401-R408.
- Nicklaus, S 2016, ‘The role of food experiences during early childhood in food pleasure learning’, Appetite, vol. 104, no. Special Issue: How can food pleasure drive healthy eating habits?, pp. 3-9.
- Watson, WL Lau, V Wellard, L Hughes, &Chapman, K 2017, ‘Advertising to children initiatives have not reduced unhealthy food advertising on Australian television’, Journal of Public Health, 1-6, [Epub ahead of print].