My husband and I treated ourselves to a dinner out last weekend, and enjoyed got a kick out of the little girls sitting across from us. It was a little bit like watching a theatre production of our lives from 15 years ago – “peek-a-boo,” trips to the bathroom, giggles.
We marveled that at just 2 1/2 years old, they were eating crab and shrimp. I can’t say that I’ve known many 2-year-olds who have had such a fine and exotic taste for food. Usually, it’s chicken nuggets and French fries that are like caviar to them.
These little girls might just grow up to be expensive dates in 15 years with their high-priced taste in food, but for now, their parents have reason to be proud that they have expanded their horizons beyond macaroni and cheese.
Watching young children try new foods can be rather comical, and calls for a camera to be ready to shoot. We once brought our very young daughter to tears when she tried oatmeal for the first time – and I have the video to prove it.
But, introducing your child to new foods shouldn’t be done haphazardly. You’ll want to do it slowly, over time, with care and consideration and your pediatrician’s guidance. Two things to especially be concerned about with young children are food allergies and a child’s ability to chew.
Shellfish is included in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ listing of the most common food allergies. Other foods on that list are: cow milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts (including walnuts, pistachios, pecans and cashews), fish and shellfish (such as shrimp, crab and lobster). The AAP explains that our bodies are designed to protect us from harmful substances, but sometimes they get it wrong. Our immune system may over-react and try to protect us from something that really isn’t harmful.
The AAP advises that skin problems (rashes, hives), breathing problems (sneezing, wheezing), stomach problems (diarrhea, vomiting) and circulation symptoms (pale skin, light-headedness) are ways that our bodies respond to these substances which it deems as foreign and harmful. Food allergies can even be life-threatening and cause anaphylaxis when breathing becomes impossible.
The good news is that 80 to 90 percent of egg, milk, wheat, and soy allergies go away by age 5 years, as reported by the AAP. Still, some allergies are more persistent. For example, 1 in 5 young children will outgrow a peanut allergy and fewer will outgrow allergies to nuts or seafood. Science is continuously researching new ways to help children overcome food allergies, and some medical experts have had success in introducing the problem foods to children over time.
Child nutrition experts urge that babies do not need juice. After 12 months of age (up to 3 years of age), give only 100 percent fruit juice and no more than four ounces a day. Offer it only in a cup, not in a bottle.
When introducing new foods to your baby or toddler, keep in mind the choking hazard. A child has to be able to chew to enjoy meat sticks, grapes or hot dogs. Nuts and seeds, meat, cheese, fruit, popcorn, raw vegetables and hard, gooey or sticky candy can be difficult for young children to chew.
Talking with your child’s pediatrician about introducing new foods will help you make the right decisions for your child. Establishing healthy eating patterns when your child is young will give him or her a strong foundation to continue those healthy habits through life. And, experts have found that eating dinner together at a table – not in front of the television or in the car on the way to soccer practice – helps to instil in children the values that most parents want them to have.
The Family Dinner Project is a movement operating out of Harvard University, which aims to educate families about the value of enjoying a meal together. The Family Dinner Project states: “Our belief in the “magic” of family dinners is grounded in research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals. Some of the specific benefits of family dinners are: better academic performance, higher self-esteem, greater sense of resilience, lower risk of substance abuse, lower risk of teen pregnancy, lower risk of depression, lower likelihood of developing eating disorders and lower rates of obesity.”
It’s never too early to pull up the high chair and start the tradition of a family dinner. Just remember to keep a wet cloth nearby because dried strained peas is a bear to clean up.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at email@example.com.