When we start offering our babies solids, many of us mothers take this job all too seriously. We want them to enjoy each spoonful with a smile and expression of eagerness for more. However, that is not always the case. When we see an expression of rejection, disgust, distaste… and so on, we immediately assume that they don’t like it because there’s no salt or because there’s no sugar i.e. a bland puree. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard family members say, “Oh no wonder he won’t eat that puree, there’s no taste!”
Babies go through several milestones during the first 2 years of their life and one of the biggest ones is accepting solids and more specifically, becoming comfortable with various food textures. They’re not judging you for your cooking but rather they’re trying to understand what is going into their mouth and why it’s so different from breastmilk or formula.
As a dietitian and mother, I also have moments where I cannot understand why my son doesn’t like what is being offered to him and doubt myself as a chef. I have to refrain from adding a pinch of salt on many occasions! However, when I walk myself through the facts –specifically why salt or sugar is not recommended under 2 years of age – I know that it’s better to encourage a journey of “healthy” self-discovery even if we have to sit through several frowns.
Here are some reasons why adding sugar or salt is not recommended under the age of 2:
Let’s begin with salt:
1. Adding salt to the initial purees you offer your baby could get them used to a certain standard. The attraction to the food then becomes the salt addiction verses the food itself. You want your little one to grow up knowing the true taste of vegetables or at least encourage the process.
2. Because you’re probably not counting how much salt you sprinkle into foods, it’s hard to assess how much sodium they’re receiving. For babies, their kidneys cannot handle depleting the salt (they don’t perspire the way we do) so it could put a strain on them.
3. Read the labels carefully for processed, canned or packaged foods. It’s important to understand what a serving size is if you’re offering your baby foods like canned soups, canned beans, or cottage cheese. Consider making your own soups and look for healthier alternatives.
Now let’s move to sugar:
1. Your baby goes through a pretty intense teething process during the first two years. Therefore, dental health is very important. Adding sugar to foods could increase chances of tooth decay.
2. By adding sugar to your baby’s food, over time you will tend to increase the sweet cravings resulting in a ‘sweet tooth.” Instead, the option of sugar should be something your baby realizes is an occasional treat.
3. Aside from dental health, added sugar in your baby’s diet could increase the risk of diabetes in the future years. You want them to appreciate fruits and vegetables as they appear and occur in nature.
It’s easy to judge others about offering salt and sugar to kids but I wanted to lay the ground work as to where these suggestions originated. It’s important to understand that babies and toddlers are different from adults. Our taste palates have evolved over many years and many of us have developed them on our own. We want our little ones to learn through self-discovery as well and in order to do so, what we offer them should be as authentic and wholesome as possible. This doesn’t mean that you have to go out and cook 100 different recipes but rather consider the facts as you’re making nutrition decisions.
To note: Once the baby gets exposed to the taste of sugar and salt, they may start preferring it and slowly refuse the intake of breast milk, due to its natural blandness. If you’re nursing, you certainly want to avoid this as breastmilk is optimal for babies through their first year of life.
Now that we’ve laid out some facts… Stay tuned for simple tips to decrease salt and sugar in your recipes.