Babies and junk food

As babies get older, the ultimate parent dilemma arises when they start to love something their parents really wish they didn’t. Case in point: junk food. Your baby may have recently started liking junk foods, and while it feels great to fill their eager hands with tiny treats, many aren’t as healthy as you might like.

Snacks are great for helping young children go between meals without getting cranky from hunger. But a lot of junk food gets marketed as a quick and portable snack for kids. In reality, junk food – like crackers, chips, pretzels, candy bars, cookies, popsicles, and fruit gummies, for example – is too low in nutrition, and shouldn’t be a staple of any baby’s diet.

The problem with babies and junk food

There are a few reasons why children at this age shouldn’t be fed junk food, no matter how tasty. Junk food is high in calories and sugar. At this age, a baby is developing at a rapid rate and needs nutrients from whole, healthy foods. Studies show that the earlier children are exposed to junk food, the greater the chance they’ll have future health problems from eating too much of it. In other words, when children start eating junk food matters, and the earlier they begin, the more their health is at risk.

Another reason why junk food isn’t the best choice is because eating those foods this young can affect the kinds of food that your baby prefers to eat. At this young age, babies are developing taste preferences that stick around with them for quite some time. The foods a baby eats in the earliest years of life affect their future eating patterns, so it’s best if you’re able to get your baby accustomed to the tastes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other unprocessed food options.

What you can do

If this sounds daunting, don’t worry – it’s easier than you think to help your baby avoid junk food (things will get a little harder when they are a toddler, though). Here are some foolproof ways to keep your baby’s diet nutritious and delicious.

  • Avoid baby-marketed snacks: Store-bought baby snacks are easy, portable, and fun – but they are also usually high in sugar and low in nutrients. They’re also usually more expensive than ‘adult’ food. Your baby can eat most of the foods that you eat, provided that it’s cut up into very small pieces, and they will get more nutrition out of it, too.
  • Read ingredients before you buy: If you want to buy snacks for your baby, make sure you glance at the ingredients list before tossing anything in your shopping cart. Try to spring for the products that don’t have a lot of ingredients or dyes. The foods that are best are the ones that have whole grains, fruits, or vegetables at the top of a short ingredient list. Ideally, it’s healthiest to buy fresh food whenever you can.
  • Pick “plain” foods and make them fun your way: For example, try buying plain yogurt – yes, the old fashioned kind. You can give it on its own, or you can add your own fresh toppings like berries (fresh or frozen), honey (once your child is older than one year), or a mild sprinkling of spices, like cinnamon. By picking yogurt without added sugars, colors, and other unnecessary ingredients you are teaching them to enjoy healthier options.
  • Make your own when you can: If you have a dehydrator lying around somewhere, now’s a good time to pull it out and start making dehydrated fruit, which can serve as tasty portable snacks for your baby. There are tons of recipes online for homemade baby snacks, too.
  • Avoid over-snacking: Snacks can be a great way to keep babies from getting too hungry between meals, and to help keep blood sugar levels steady, but when snacks start to become habits, or comfort activities, they can help to form negative eating patterns that could cause problems later. Having scheduled snack times can help to avoid this habit.

Helping your baby develop healthy eating habits is more about the journey than the destination. It’s about the little steps that you take, every day, to get them comfortable with eating whole foods and balanced meals. Best of all, it benefits your baby’s health in so many different ways.

  • Samantha Olson. “Unhealthy Eating Habits Begin As Early As Infancy; Formula-Feeding, Junk Food Should Be Avoided At All Costs.” MedicalDaily. IBT Media Inc., Nov 2 2014. Web.
  • Xiaozhong Wen, Kai Ling Kong, Rina Das Eiden, Neha Navneet Sharma, Chuanbo Xie. “Sociodemographic Differences and Infant Dietary Patterns.” Pediatrics.  American Academy of Pediatrics, Oct 2014. Web.
  • “Childhood Obesity Facts.” CDC. US Department of Health and Human Services, Aug 27 2015. Web.
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