Birth, Babies, and Beyond

Pregnancy, birth, and parenting

Healthy Eating and Birth Order

Why First Children Start Life Healthier

Kids need to start eating healthy before they are even turn one year old to shape and solidify good eating habits, according to 11 studies packaged in the journal Pediatrics and reported in today’s New York Times.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. We are, as we know, creatures of habit. But it got me thinking. The study I’d like to see would compare the diets of oldest children to their younger siblings in those early years. And whether it makes any difference in the long run.

When my first son was born, he was the model of organic, healthy eating. I figured there was no need to introduce him to junk food, so he learned to love what was around. Papayas, avocados and string beans were his favorites. Really. I’m not sure he knew French Fries even existed.

By the time my twins were born, Jack was in school and surrounded by a whirlwind of birthday cake and treats—and he’d bring the scraps home. And while he never had a super sweet tooth (just like those new studies suggest), I started buying junky stuff to have around the house. I wasn’t feeling the pressure for healthy eating as much as the pressure not to be one of those no-sugar-in-the-house-moms, the kind whose children binge when they are with friends. I wanted Jack to have a normal reaction to food. But that meant that my little ones indulged in lollipops and donuts at a much younger age than Jack had.

There was a moment of realization when I figured this wasn’t healthy for anyone anymore. Joey and Martha—the twins—were about 3. Without purging the house, I put the sweets on high shelves and created lovely platters of celery and carrot sticks. I felt so smug, so holier than thou, or at least holier than lots of other moms who weren’t scraping carrots and arranging them in quaint circles.

About two untouched platters later, I was standing in the hall outside the kitchen when I heard my twins whispering—a signal they were up to something they shouldn’t be. Chaos was our norm. Quiet was a harbinger of trouble.

As I tip-toed closer, I saw the refrigerator door swung open and a chair perched by it. Then I saw them hunched over a 6-pack of cupcakes that had mounds of frosting, a tower of sugar my mother bought at Costco and I cleverly hid way high up.

“Just push your finger across the top, like this Joey. You can. Just eat the top,” Martha said.

My healthy platters hadn’t shaped her choices at all. I was doomed. It only got worse when the next child came along and developed at sweet tooth by day 3.

I know plenty of folks have healthier houses than ours. I had this moment, a wickedly fleeting moment, of being the perfect mom feeding my kids perfect food. It all seemed so simple when I had one infant who had no schooling and no friends. Then I had more kids and they entered the world. One of sweets and treats and lots of seductive marketing.

The Twins: Joey & Martha circa 1999

 

Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., is the author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

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