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Health is in your kid's plate since his early childhood

gisèle gual — mar 20, 2019

Everybody knows it, the way we eat can have a huge influence on our health. Some diseases linked to our diet are well known: overweight, obesity, diabetes, hypertension… These causal relationships seem easy to understand and therefore to control. And yet, it’s not just about “junk food”, it is more often about "bad" food habits acquired during childhood that are ogh so difficult to change as an adult.

The environment where a child lives can have an impact on the way he will live afterwards, simply because that is what he knows best. The same is true for food...

Diet is one of the central elements of a child’s life and as his brain is so flexible at that age and stores a lot of information during his early childhood (allowing him to physically and intellectually grow enormously), all his senses are also constantly growing and evolving. This is why we talk about the importance of the “1000 first days of life”during these first 1000 days the development of the tastebuds of a child is crucial because it will set his future preferences but also his future appetences. In other words, he will develop an affinity for some foods and even more if he ate those during his early childhood. What a kid eats at the age of 2 is often a good reflection of what he will be eating at an adult age.

The (very) sweet and salty tastes for example are tastes which are difficult to get rid of, simply because the tolerance of our taste buds changes according to the strength of these tastes. It is also a good reason to not (over)salt meals or give too much sweet food to a child, because he will get used to these flavours and will be even more attracted to these salted and/or too sweet foods. 

But a child’s palate also adapts very easily and children are not more attracted to “unhealthy” food than to other healthy ones!

This is why diversifying children’s diet at most is even more important than for an adult. 

Think about the very diverse food habits of several countries, where children are not wondering if this is “normal” or not: “salty” breakfasts in England, spicy dishes in Mexico, raw fishes in Japan… The palate of all these children is however identical at birth, but it simply evolved while being frequently in contact with food/condiments which make their meals. Children adapt to them.

It is exactly the same thing with a healthy and diversified diet in general: a child who got used to it will think that this is standard and won’t be afraid to eat a bit of everything and to try out new mixtures, textures, flavours and smells.

Article by Gisèle Gual, pediatric dietitian.