Take a page from our healthy-from-the-start handbook: There's a lot that you can learn from your baby's good eating habits!
You put a lot of thought into how and what you feed your baby—and that's a good thing! The bonus is that applying that same care to your own diet can make you healthier, too. So put these five baby-feeding practices into your own eating routine:
1. When you're hungry, it's time to eat
Early on, we learn to read our babies' hunger cues: rooting, lip smacking, finger sucking and, sometimes, even the dreaded I-was-ready-to-eat-an-hour-ago wailing. Babies aren't born with an instinct to eat because they're bored, sad, or anxious. They experience hunger in relation to their caloric needs, which can change based on how active they've been or whether they're going through a growth spurt. While adults may not experience growth spurts (at least we hope not!), the same principal applies: When we've exercised and been otherwise active, we need to eat more than when we've parked ourselves on the couch for an afternoon of binge-watching Netflix. So, take a lesson from your baby and exercise some mindfulness as you tune in to your hunger cues. Are you really ravenous, or just snacking out of boredom or stress? The answer to that question can make a big difference in how those calories add up.
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2. Eat nutritious, real food
When we think about a baby's first foods, rarely do images of salty snacks, packaged cookies, or cartoonish fast food mascots come to mind. Chances are, if you saw an adult spoon-feeding fluorescent cheese puffs to a 6-month old, you might even consider alerting the authorities! It's common knowledge that an ideal diet for baby is a balanced one, comprised of fresh vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, whole grains, and healthy protein. And while bodies of different sizes have different needs, there are some basic principles of a healthy baby diet that you can adopt to contribute to your overall wellness. Focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods, like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains—they retain more nutrients than processed foods. And when you mostly eat this way—consuming food as close to its natural state as possible—you'll find it much easier to avoid excess sugars, sweeteners, and salt.
3. Try new foods
When babies first begin exploring solids their reactions to new foods can be pretty fun to watch. New flavors and textures are met with excitement, curiosity, even silliness. In the early days of eating, babies are usually open to trying lots of different foods. This is good, if messy, news, not only from a developmental perspective, but because experimenting with new tastes and textures can lead to eating a more varied diet. And little ones who consume all sorts of foods get a diverse mix of nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins. A varied diet is a healthier diet for mom, too. We keep babies interested in food by regularly offering them new options, and the same strategy can work for maintaining a healthy diet. Choosing a variety of foods keeps your meals exciting so that you don't get stuck in a rut. Trying new foods exposes you to healthy options you didn't know you loved. Embrace your baby's attitude for new tastes and textures. Who knows? Maybe, if you're like your baby, you'll love that chia green smoothie so much you'll giggle, you'll coo, you'll clap and...well, then you'll accidentally knock over your cup, spill what's left all over the floor and slip in it.
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4. Enjoy and savor every bite
Anyone who has ever watched a baby take 45 minutes to munch a handful of puffs and a string cheese knows that these people can really savor a meal. Babies eat their Cheerios 1 at a time. They examine their food, touch it, smell it, squish it. They relish (almost) everything. Babies take their time, partly because they're still learning how to eat, but largely because they haven't yet learned to rush things. They know, instinctively, that slow is better. Eating slowly, more deliberately, makes dining more pleasurable for grown-ups, too, and is a healthier way to eat. Studies have shown that eating slowly helps you eat less because it gives your brain time to process the fullness cues from your stomach. Since it takes about 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to let you know you're full, a leisurely pace gives your brain and body the right amount of time to signal when you've had enough. Chewing foods slowly increases the digestive enzymes in your mouth, which allows for better overall digestion as the food moves through your system. Plus, when you savor your food, doing nothing other than enjoying the flavor, texture, and experience of it, you will likely find that one or two bites of something indulgent is all you need to feel satisfied.
5. When you're full, it's time to stop eating
Believe it or not, there's something to be learned from those turned heads, clenched mouths, and tossed sweet potatoes that signal the end of your baby's mealtime. It's an incredible thing. Babies know when they've reached their limit, and then they stop eating. Most adults, on the other hand, have lost this natural instinct over time. All too often we neglect to stop eating when our bellies are full and, instead, let external cues like a clean plate, an empty package or the end of a television show dictate the end of mealtime. Those who learn—or never forget in the first place—to stop eating when they are comfortable, not stuffed, are better able to manage their weight. So try this tactic next time you sit down for a meal: push your plate away when you're 80 percent satiated and don't continue to gorge yourself once you are completely full. After that? Kitchen's closed. You may be surprised how satisfied you feel with a little room left in your tank.