During your baby’s first 1,000 days of life there is a unique "window of opportunity" to establish a healthy relationship with food and promote lifelong health. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of this important time in your child’s life.
What is the “window of opportunity”?
From conception until age 2 (roughly 1000 days) are when the foundations for good health are built. Good nutrition in these first 1,000 days lowers your little one's risk of developing diet-related illnesses later in life, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Parents play a very important role during this time, starting in the womb and through the sights, smells and tastes they introduce.
We are born with the ability to like food from any culture around the world, and it’s the foods we are exposed to the most that we form lasting preferences for. During your baby’s first year, they are most willing to try new foods, making it a great time to introduce as many flavours and textures as you can. This will both help your child become a more confident and adventurous eater, and decrease the likelihood of pickiness and overeating down the road.
Benefits of the window of opportunity
Growth & Development: During this 1000 day period, your baby’s brain is growing rapidly, reaching 80% of its adult size by age 3. More than half of all calories consumed go straight to the brain, and nutrients such as iron help carry oxygen to the brain. Your baby’s emotional, cognitive and motor skills also develop during this time, and studies show that there is a correlation between proper nourishment and strong academic performance. And of course, a well rounded diet provides your little one with the nutrients they need for physical growth and activity to help them reach their development milestones.
Health Eating Habits: We usually carry our healthy eating habits from these first 1000 days into adulthood. Research shows that increasing the variety and frequency of vegetable offerings between 6 and 12 months promotes vegetable consumption throughout childhood. Infants and toddlers who learn to eat healthy foods and not overeat are set up to have a healthy relationship to food for years to come.
How to take advantage of the window of opportunity
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding: Pregnant parents who eat well will pass along these preferences to their babies. Babies are first exposed to flavors through amniotic fluid and their sense of smell develops during the first trimester, a key sense for developing taste preferences. In fact, babies have more taste buds before they’re born than at any time in life, so they are primed to learn to love their family’s food culture early on. Additionally, flavours pass from mother to child in breastmilk, helping create flavour preferences once they start solids.
During Mealtime: Offer your baby a variety of flavours and textures across all food groups early on. Try different flavour combinations and add herbs and spices (except salt). Offering a new food over and over or in combination with other foods will help your little one accept a new food, and it may take up to 15 exposures to get them there. These first few months of solids aren’t as much about nutrition as they are about taste experience and developing a healthy food preference. Babies may not like something the first time it goes into their mouth, and that’s why it’s important for parents to keep trying. Don’t get discouraged, just know that it’s the foods parents care about feeding to their children multiple times that their children learn to like.
Do Away With Dessert: Make healthy meals a centerpiece and skip sweet rewards at the end of the meal. Follow your baby’s lead during the early days so they can learn to control their own intake.