Understanding a Child's Eating Habits

Instilling Good Eating Habits in a Child

Your nightly meals will be your child's first example of a healthy attitude towards food.
Your nightly meals will be your child's first example of a healthy attitude towards food.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Your attitudes about nutrition and the foods you eat directly affect the development of your child's food attitudes and habits. You are your child's first model of how to eat and what to eat. Take time to consider your use of salt and the amount of fat and sugar you consume. Think about which of your dietary habits you want to pass on to your child. Are there modifications you would make? Right now is a good time to make changes in your diet, if change is necessary, so your eating habits are in harmony with what you want for your baby.

Informing yourself about what constitutes a good diet for your baby and growing child is a good place to start. You will learn that, in excess, salt is not a healthy additive to your baby's diet or your own. You will learn, too, that Americans consume far more sugar than they need, which may contribute in part to obesity and tooth decay.

Although fat should not be restricted for children younger than two years of age, older children, like adult Americans, consume too much dietary fat, which is a risk factor for heart disease, obesity, and some types of cancer. As you grow to understand more about your child's nutritional needs and his normal growth and development, you will see why food battles occur in some families. You will also learn to recognize when it is normal for your child to be picky or to dawdle over his meal.


The American diet contains, on the average, ten times more sodium (one of the chemicals in salt) than is required for good health. You get sodium naturally in the foods you eat and, as a result, generally do not need to add salt to your diet. High sodium intake has been directly correlated with the development of hypertension (high blood pressure). Hypertension can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Some people seem to be genetically more at risk for developing hypertension. A family history of high blood pressure should alert you to be prudent with the use of salt in your diet and your baby's diet.

When should you first be concerned about salt in your baby's diet? Research indicates you should avoid overuse of salt right from birth. Breast-feeding or choosing a formula most like breast milk ensures your baby gets just the right amount of sodium.

Once your baby begins to eat solid foods, feed him foods to which no salt has been added. Processed foods, such as hot dogs, bacon, soup, canned vegetables, canned meats, catsup, pickles, and puddings, as well as salty-tasting foods, are usually high in sodium and should be restricted. Take care not to add salt to the baby food you make at home, even though it may taste bland to you.

Research shows that a baby who has high levels of sodium in his diet from birth and who continues this pattern throughout his life has an increased risk of developing high blood pressure as an adult. Your baby's food tastes are established in infancy; if he grows accustomed to salty foods and enjoys them, it will be more difficult for him to give up salt later. Remember, too, that if your baby sees you salt your food or eat potato chips, he will want to do the same. Reducing salt in your baby's diet means reducing salt in the family diet.


Sugar is not an unhealthful food. You need some sugar in your diet and get a form of sugar every time you eat fresh fruits. Refined sugar in limited amounts is all right, too, except when it contributes too many of the calories your baby eats each day. A diet too high in sugar is a diet that probably lacks other nutrients.

Sugar comes in many forms and not all of them are harmful to your diet. Sugar comes in many forms and not all of them are harmful to your diet.
Sugar comes in many forms and not all of them are harmful to your diet.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Sugar comes in many forms. Fruit sugar naturally sweetens the fruit you eat. Corn syrup is used to sweeten soda pop and some fruit juices. Honey is simply another form of sugar -- it is no more healthful than granulated sugar. (In fact, because of the threat of botulism, do not give honey to a child younger than one year of age.) Molasses, besides sugar, contains very small amounts of other nutrients, including iron. Milk contains a sugar called lactose.

Probably the best way to get the sugar you need is from fruits, vegetables, and other fresh foods. An occasional cookie or piece of pie, cake, or candy is not bad unless it replaces the foods your family needs or diminishes their appetite for nutritious foods.

Babies prefer sweet foods. Your baby's first food is breast milk or formula. If you taste these milks, you will discover both are very sweet. Since your baby gets all the sugar he needs from his milk and later from the good foods he eats, you should avoid giving him too many cookies or sweet desserts. Eating cookies and sweets before meals quickly raises the blood sugar level, which is likely to ruin your baby's appetite.

Frequent bathing of the teeth in sugar promotes tooth decay. Since sugar is in milk and other foods, the additional sugar found in soda pop, gum, sticky dried fruits, and other sweet snack foods increases the likelihood of tooth decay. Restrict sugar consumption and give your child low-sugar snacks, such as fresh vegetables, toast strips, and cheese chunks.

In our next section, we will look at a very dangerous health concern facing America's children -- the growing obesity epidemic.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.