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Long-term Benefits of Introducing a Healthy Diet from a Young Age

Obesity rate among children indicates the need for healthy eating

Children have a sweet tooth. You can’t blame them; it is in their genetics. Sweet used to indicate that something contained calories and that was good for growth. These days however, babies and toddlers are given food that contains unnecessary added sugars which can lead to the development of a “sweet preference” in their diet. A lack of healthy eating can sow the seeds of future health issues such as Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. According to the CDC, the childhood obesity rate has increased by nearly 33% since 2000, leading to obesity in about 1 out of every 5 kids. Even among 2- to 5-year-olds, obesity prevalence is 13.9%.1 Its time to train our kids to be healthier.

 

Early introduction can lead to long-term preferences

Kale

You eat what you know. From age 2 to 6, neophobia (the fear of new things) tends to be at its most prominent2, which can make it hard to introduce new foods at such a critical time in development. Overcoming this neophobia is the key. Studies have shown that repeated introduction to new foods, including a wide array of vegetables, will make toddlers more accepting of differing flavors and textures over time.

When it comes to feeding infants, do not let them fool you. Studies showed that when infants were given puréed kale, they almost always ate it, despite some of the looks on their faces.3 Given the chance, they may even grow to enjoy these foods at a young age. Just make sure that you do not over feed them to the point of disdain. Too much of a good thing can be bad in this case.

 

How can childcare services help create the palate of the future?

With more children being enrolled in childcare than ever, childcare centers provide millions of meals a year and have the unique opportunity to not only mold the future minds of America, but also the palates (and healthy bodies). The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) helps child care centers and preschools subsidize nutritious foods to promote wellness, healthy growth, and the development of children. With child care centers on the ground floor of child development, using the assistance of CACFP, these centers have the chance to combat the threat of obesity and set the children up for the long-term health benefits of a diverse palate primed to enjoy nutritious and healthy foods.

 

A step toward a healthier future

Many child care centers are now turning toward third-party vendors or caterers to manage meal programs. This specialization lets childcare centers focus on the kids while vendors curate menus that are packed with a variety of delicious hearty selections which also satisfy CACFP guidelines. These meals are the first step in a move toward a longer, healthier, happier life.

Smart Lunches Lentil Bolognese
Smart Lunches Lentil Bolognese

At Smart Lunches, we take this responsibility seriously, and offer administrators variety and selections designed to expose children to a broader variety of foods, while continuing to offer traditional selections that kids love. For example, our December 2020 menu includes selections like Grilled Chicken with Whole Grain Rice, Mac & Cheese, and Pasta with Meat Sauce. But we also offer delicious, more adventurous selections, like Lentil Bolognese with Whole Grain Rotini, Fiesta Tofu with Whole Grain Rice, and Curry Chicken with Veggies and Whole Grain Rice. To download the complete December menu, click here.

If you would like to discuss how Smart Lunches can bring more variety in healthy and nutritious meals to your center, click here.

 


References

  1. “Childhood Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 June 2019, www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html.
  2. Dovey, Terence & Staples, Paul & Gibson, Edward & Halford, Jason. (2008). Food neophobia and 'picky/fussy' eating in children: A review. Appetite. 50. 181-93. 10.1016/j.appet.2007.09.009.
  3. Bilger, Burkhard, et al. “Can Babies Learn to Love Vegetables?” The New Yorker, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/25/can-babies-learn-to-love-vegetables.