29.05.2024

Reveals how parents can handle the challenges of nourishing the little ones

Spend time with parents of young kids and you can almost guarantee that at some point the conversation will turn to what their offspring will and won’t eat.

Fussy eating — and its possible effects on a child’s long-term health — is a real concern for some parents, and understandably so.

As a parent of one (soon to be two) I know first-hand the pressure and challenges of nourishing little humans.

I’m also well versed in the research showing how important good nutrition is in the early days of a child’s life — from conception to the second birthday — to their development.

Children who are well nourished during this time are ten times more likely to overcome infections and achieve better grades at school — and as adults they’re likely to earn over 20 per cent more than less well-nourished children, and will have healthier families themselves, according to the international charity 1,000 Days.

Fussy eating ¿ and its possible effects on a child¿s long-term health ¿ is a real concern for some parents, and understandably so (stock image)

Fussy eating — and its possible effects on a child’s long-term health — is a real concern for some parents, and understandably so (stock image)

As a parent of one (soon to be two) I know first-hand the pressure and challenges of nourishing little humans

It’s true that well-nourished children often come from more privileged, educated families which you might think may explain why these kids do better — but research from Brazil published in the Lancet in 2015 found that even taking into account family income and parental education, the link with higher IQ, education attainment and income at 30 years persisted.

It’s not just about children’s diets in those early days and months. In fact, parents can help ensure their child benefits from good nutrition before they are even born — starting from before conception.

Research suggests that what you eat — and that means both parents — can impact your child’s future health and development, and may influence the health of the genes that will be passed on for generations to come.

A study published in Cell Metabolism in 2016 showed that in obese men, weight loss was associated with a ‘dramatic remodelling of sperm DNA’ — interestingly involving genes implicated in appetite control.

We know that children of fathers who are obese are more likely to develop it themselves — this study suggests the heritability of obesity from fathers to their offspring may be reversed ahead of conception, and certainly this is what’s been shown in animal studies.

I don’t want to add to the pressure of motherhood as it’s tough enough as it is — but what mums-to-be eat during pregnancy can affect the kind of food your child will have a taste for.

That’s partly because their taste buds start to develop from eight weeks of pregnancy. So feed them cauliflower in the womb and the chances are they will find it more palatable when they make it into the outside world — even if you need to sneak it into a smoothie (see recipe right).

Did you know?

Ever noticed your gin and tonic glows blue under certain lights?

This is thanks to the chemical quinine in the tonic water: it absorbs ultraviolet light and re-emits it as visible light.

Once a child is born, we know that breast is best — and there is fascinating new research adding to the reasons why. We now know that the third-largest component of breast milk, besides water, is in fact indigestible, and is designed to feed and develop a baby’s microbiome — the community of microbes that live in the gut. A healthy microbiome can play a part in protecting against disease and infections and influences their chance of developing allergies — even of being obese later in life.

So even if you only manage a few days, any breastfeeding is better than none.

When it comes to encouraging your child to eat well, the weaning stage opens a window of opportunity to introduce a range of foods — and the broader it is, studies tell us, the less likely it is your child will become a fussy eater.

This is when it’s worth introducing them to what I call the super six groups of plants — legumes (such as lentils and butter beans), veg, fruit, wholegrains (such as oats and barely), nuts and seeds, herbs and spices (the latter will help develop their taste buds). Hitting all these in the first year is a tricky one but it’s worth aiming for them to have at least one from each of these most days.

Another, obvious way to help your child eat well is to be a role model yourself ¿ young kids will want what they see you having (stock image)

Another, obvious way to help your child eat well is to be a role model yourself — young kids will want what they see you having (stock image)

The fact that nuts are on that list might come as a surprise as lots of parents are cautious about introducing these into their children’s diet — and if your family has a history of allergies including eczema then I would suggest you look at the Allergy UK website before you try this.

But the point is that evidence now shows that early and regular introduction of peanuts in the form of smooth nut butter or powder — from four months — in those at higher risk (because of a family history) may actually help reduce the risk of a peanut allergy. To ease your mind, it’s estimated that 99.8 per cent of babies will not have a severe reaction according to Allergy UK.

Another, obvious way to help your child eat well is to be a role model yourself — young kids will want what they see you having.

I always made a big deal of eating a diverse range of plants in front of my now two-year-old son Archie when he was really small (and getting his dad to too, which was no easy feat) and this has really worked with him — he will happily eat black beans and sprouts.

Another science-backed strategy is to give them some voice in what they eat — take them veggie shopping and let them choose the ones they want.

And if they keep turning down a food, don’t give up. Research tells us that kids may need to be offered a food around ten times before they accept it — exhausting I know. But I’ve found that using leftovers in meals can help some of that resentment that I experienced when Archie refused a veggie stew that I’d made for him.

And what about forbidden foods? Well again we know from research that the minute you rule a food out of bounds, it puts a bounty on it in a child’s eyes.

So, select your words with care — just telling a child a food is healthy or unhealthy doesn’t mean much. Try explaining to them from a young age about the importance of their gut microbes: tell them they need to feed the little pet bugs in their tummy with broccoli for instance to help keep them strong — this worked wonders not just for my two nephews, but many of my clients with young kids, too. Sure they can have cake on a special day but tell them if you eat this bit of veg or fruit, it will help make them feel happier.

Honestly these strategies work. Archie is now two and thinks that butter beans are the best thing — and yes, baby number two might throw all this back in my face, but the science suggests the odds are in my favour if I stick with these principles.

Try this: Hidden cauli berry smoothie

Packed with antioxidant flavonoids, shown to have brain-boosting properties, this also contains cauliflower, for a good portion of veg — and the yoghurt provides live microbes for good measure.

Serves 1

  • 100g frozen blueberries
  • 1 ripe pear, chopped
  • 2 florets frozen cauliflower
  • 100g thick, natural yoghurt
  • 100ml water, or milk of choice
  • Ice, to serve

Blitz the ingredients in a high-powered blender until smooth. (Put frozen ingredients first for a smooth blend). Serve over ice.

Ask Megan

There is a lot of information about it being important to control our cholesterol levels, but what about triglycerides?

Bala Balenthiran, Reading, Berkshire.

Triglycerides are the most common form of fat in the blood. Your body converts excess calories into triglycerides which circulate in your blood and are then stored in your fat cells. When your body needs energy, the triglycerides are released and used as fuel.

Get moving: exercise helps mobilise and burn the excess triglycerides (stock image)

Get moving: exercise helps mobilise and burn the excess triglycerides (stock image)

Like cholesterol, triglycerides are linked with increased risk of heart disease so, yes, it’s important to reduce high levels. Thankfully in many cases this can be done with diet and lifestyle changes (otherwise you might be prescribed medications such as statins). Try these science-backed tips:

  • Reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet, particularly from sweetened drinks (excess sugar can be converted into triglycerides).
  • Increase your fibre intake, as this can slow the absorption of dietary fat which is transported as triglycerides in your blood system.
  • Get moving: exercise helps mobilise and burn the excess triglycerides.
  • Eat oily fish twice a week — the omega 3s they contain have been shown to help reduce fats such as triglycerides being produced in the liver. Oily fish include salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring and sardines.

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