New research suggests people's unbalanced eating habits begin before their first birthdays!
baby eating pasta
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We know childhood obesity is an epidemic. But would you believe unbalanced eating habits develop as early as 9 months of age? Indeed, according to a National Health and Examination Survey commissioned by baby food company Beech-Nut, today's kids are eating too much of the wrong things, even as infants.

Researchers looked at the food and beverage consumption of babies, from birth through 24 months, over the course of a decade, and were startled to learn that as children start eating more foods beyond those formulated just for babies, French fries, sugary drinks, and sweets make up more of their diets than vegetables and whole grains. And frighteningly, by 1 year of age, kids are consuming adult levels of sodium and added sugars. talked to Nicole Silber, MS, RD, pediatric dietitian and Beech-Nut Nutrition consultant, via email to get some tips for how to avoid this fried food and sugar trap. "There are ways to successfully transition children in their most formative years to a lifetime of healthy eating, and it can start as early as a child's very first bites of food," she said. "In fact, research shows that babies have more balanced diets between 6 to 8 months when they are given baby food. This is why I recommend that parents keep baby food in the mix a bit longer, either on its own or by incorporating baby food into the process of transitioning to table foods."

She suggests giving your baby yogurt topped with a fruity baby food and cereal, for example. "Doing so helps provide a healthy mix of the right soft and solid foods needed to help get your baby accustomed to solid foods, all while maintaining proper nutrition and balance for your babies' diet."

Silber offers these additional tips for parents:

  • Keep the right baby food in the mix:Not all baby food is created equal, and with so many choices it can be challenging to know which one is best for your baby. Pick blends without added water, with a non-GMO or organic label, and those with vibrant colors. Steer clear of dull and monotone colors.
  • Make it exciting—take baby's palate on a trip around the world: Add herbs and spices like oregano in pasta, mint in fruit blends, cumin in lentils, cinnamon in whole grain oatmeal cereals, and onion powder in chicken purees. This can be done starting at the very first bites. The more exciting, the more likely babies will eat—and even seek—these flavors beyond their baby years.
  • Transition from real purees to real foods: When transitioning baby from pureed foods to whole foods, think real—which means foods from the ground or farm. While packaged goods have their place in the diet, and can save time and mess, they can often be high in sodium and added sugar with little to no nutrition value. For example, at snack time, feed baby chopped tomatoes, baked pears with nutmeg, or bananas with smooth peanut butter. For an on-the-go alternative, grab a jar of baby food.

The bottom line: We are shaping our kids' eating habits for life even before they know how to say the word "food." What we feed our babies may shape their long-term health and help determine their risk for becoming obese. So make conscious decisions when feeding your baby and growing toddler, and plan ahead so you aren't just shoving French fries and cookies at him in a crunch.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.