The remarkable thing about this study was that the 6 month old babies weren't given especially salty food. They were given food that many parents think is healthy for their children - crackers, bread, and other starchy snacks. Imagine a well-meaning parent giving her baby whole wheat goldfish crackers and thinking that it is a healthy food, not knowing that she is setting her baby up for a lifetime of salt cravings! Even bread, which people don't think of as a high-salt food, is actually fairly high in salt compared to the natural foods that people ate for hundreds of thousands of years.
Starchy Food Is a Bad First Food
Starchy foods are bad first foods for several reasons.
- Starchy foods have very little flavor, so they don't teach babies the flavors of real foods.
- Starchy foods in our culture are associated with processed foods. The first flavors your child learns will stick with him the longest. He will be more likely to love these flavors later. If his first foods are starchy, flavorless ones, he'll learn to like the refined flour processed foods that food manufacturers create in their factories.
Best First Foods: Meat and Vegetables
Some researchers are recommending meat as a good first food. Meat is high in iron and zinc. Breast milk is low in both of these nutrients, so meat fills the gaps.
Vegetables are also a good first food. Teaching your baby the taste of many different vegetables at this early age can make her like them for a lifetime. Vegetables are also extremely nutritious. Your baby will get a lot of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Fruit may also be a good first food, but there is still a controversy over whether feeding your baby fruit this early will program her to like sweet tastes. If you want to be safe, stick with vegetables for the first few months.
How to Make a Healthy Cracker
Parents like crackers because they're convenient. It's easy to grab a handful of crackers for baby to munch on a car trip to the grocery store.
There is nothing wrong with an occasional cracker or piece of bread. But try to make sure it is flavorful (like herb or tomato flavored) and unsalted.
If you want a healthy cracker, you can make it yourself. Follow these rules:
- Don't add any salt.
- Don't add any sweetener.
- Add other flavors by adding herbs and spices (preferably fresh).
- Don't taste it yourself! I'm kidding here, but if you do taste it, recognize that your adult palate, warped by years of salty, sugary food, may find the crackers boring. Don't worry - your baby will love them!
These crackers have no salt or sugar. They contain herbs, which teach your baby to like the taste of real food. Herbs are also extremely high in antioxidants.
1 cup whole wheat flour (or other whole grain flours)
1/2 cup oatmeal, blended until fine in a blender or food processor
3 tablespoons wheat germ (stored in freezer so it doesn't get rancid)
2 tablespoons sesame or poppy seeds
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, basil, dill, oregano, thyme, cilantro, etc.)
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup olive or other oil
- Mix together the flour, oatmeal, wheat germ, seeds, and herbs.
- Add the water and the oil. Mix together or process in a food processor. The dough should come together in a ball. Add more oil and water if it seems too dry.
- Roll out until as thin as possible on a floured surface. Cut into shapes using a knife or cookie cutter.
- Place on ungreased baking sheet.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
Teaching Your Child to Love Healthy Food is NOT Intuitive!
When I see a surprising study like this one, which finds that a seemingly healthy food like whole wheat crackers can have huge impacts on children's eating preferences years later, I realize that using a parent's intuition is not enough. Many parents feed their children food that seems healthy, but years later their children are junk food junkies.
The only way to really teach your child to love healthy food is to follow the research on how children learn their food preferences.
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