I recently saw Dr. Alan Greene on TV discussing infant feeding practices and how that may relate to the problem of childhood obesity. Dr. Greene, like most pediatricians, has long been a proponent of healthy eating. He recently launched his “White Out” campaign to change how babies are introduced to solid foods.
His argument is that an infant’s first food has long been rice cereal. Rice cereal is typically introduced to a baby between 5 – 6 months of age when they are just beginning to sit up in a high chair, and may be fed with a spoon. Rice cereal typically comes in a box and breast milk or formula is added to the dried flakes in order to make it the consistency where the baby may be offered a few bites from a spoon.
Although rice is a “white grain” there are also other infant cereal products available, and there are no “directives” that say that a brown rice or mixed grain cereal may not be used. As I understand it, the whole idea is really just to get the baby used to spoon feeding and then I begin introducing my infant patients to vegetables and fruits.
So, the idea that the baby rice cereal is somehow linked to the entire problem of childhood obesity seems somewhat shortsighted to me. An infant is only fed rice cereal one or two times a day while still receiving either breast milk or a formula. Remember that breast milk and formulas contain carbohydrates too. Infant cereal whether it be brown or white rice should not be the only food a baby is introduced too, nor should they eat cereal all day long.
While Dr. Greene is concerned that babies will “get hooked on the taste of highly processed foods”, I'm more concerned that parents will quickly forgo rice and whole grain cereals, fruits, veggies and meats and begin feeding their children frosted or honey nut cheerios (a favorite early finger food), as wells as goldfish and puffs, pasta and other white foods. These are the foods I am most likely to see in my office, not a bowl fruits and vegetables.
Babies really get the majority of their calories from breast milk or formula until about 9 – 12 months of age. Parents should be encouraged to feed their babies a wide array of healthy foods including cereals, vegetables, fruits and meats. Dr. Greene is right, a baby doesn’t tell you he won’t eat brown rice, or oatmeal or spinach or prunes. For the most part an infant happily opens their mouths and will take what is fed to them.
The problem occurs a little later as babies start to show a preference for foods , whether that is by making a face, or pushing food away, they definitely show preferences. This is when the idea of getting “hooked on foods” really begins. It is not uncommon for me to hear a parent of a one year old say, “my baby doesn’t like…… squash, or cereal, or peaches.” Soon thereafter you hear, “my toddler will only eat…..fill in the blank”. Those are the words that send shivers down my spine. Trying to get those parents to buy into the fix the meal and they will eat it if they are hungry is quite a difficult concept at times.
The issue is not only beginning a baby on rice cereal, the problem is more complex. It is getting parents to understand that our children will always have food preferences, that does not mean that we need to acknowledge them or submit to them. It means that we need to make good healthy meals for our families, white rice or brown rice is only the beginning of the story.
That's your daily dose for today. What do you think? Leave your comments below!