I recently attended a conference that was sponsored by a dozen companies and organizations. This information contained in this blog post represents my synthesis and interpretation of the material presented. I was not paid for or asked to write this post.

As an older not old adult, I am truly amazed at how decisions earlier in life, forks in the road and forks on the plate, can manifest themselves later in life. As parents travel through pregnancy, infancy, and childhood, they make decisions about feeding their kids that can have a profound effect on a child’s health as an older adult.

Childhood experts and researchers talk about the importance of the first 1000 days, from the start of pregnancy to about the second birthday. As I summarized in a blog post for the Kerry Health & Nutrition Institute, weight gain during pregnancy affects a mother’s health, the course of her pregnancy, and health of her child. Vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, choline, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and iodine are extremely important during pregnancy, and many of these nutrients warrant attention during breast feeding also.

It is all too easy for parents to overfeed young children. In a 2012 study, Li et al found that bottle-fed infants consumed too many calories compared to those who are breastfed. Why? Because with the bottle, mom and dad decide how much baby should be drinking; with breastfeeding, babies regulate themselves. Overfeeding at such an early age can override the infant’s natural responses to hunger and fullness, and this can last a lifetime. What this means is not recognizing the signals of having eaten enough and getting used to eating more calories than needed.

Overfeeding is even more prevalent when kids start eating food. According to the Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, conducted in 2002 and 2008 and scheduled for 2017, infants and toddlers get too many calories and too much protein; also too much saturated fat and sodium as they get older. After 2 years of age, kids typically eat more servings of sweets and desserts than fruits and vegetables. Since little kids can’t shop or cook for themselves, it’s up to parents to decide what to serve and when, but for kids to decide how much to eat … and parents to let them stop.

Another life-changing decision has to do with allergies. Until very recently, parents were told to avoid feeding their children the most allergenic foods – cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, tree nuts, and especially peanuts. Allergies in general, and peanut allergies in particular, are on the rise. But not in Israel, where children eat a puffed snack made with peanut butter at a very young age. So researcher and pediatrician George Du Toit conducted a study where he fed peanut butter to infants starting at 4 to 6 months of age. A few kids had minor allergic reactions and very few developed peanut allergies. At the conference I attended, Du Toit explained that waiting too long to feed children peanut butter allows their body to develop an allergic response. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued recommendations to introduce peanut protein as early as 4 to 6 months, under the guidance of a pediatrician for kids who may have other allergies. The amount can be small, just 7 grams or so per week in Dr. Du Toit’s study.

Moms who get the okay from their pediatrician can make a sauce from smooth peanut butter to stir into baby’s cereal or mix into mashed vegetables. Another option is stirring a bit of powdered peanut butter into foods. I recently received coupons from Peanut Butter & Co. for its powdered peanut butter, and I am looking forward to trying it!

For this blog’s recipe, I created a quick, kid-friendly dish made from sweet potato flour and peanut flour. What I like about this is that Mom can pack it in a small covered bowl, toss it in the diaper bag, and prepare it on the fly with water. You can use mashed sweet potatoes or any other mashed vegetable, and either peanut powder or smooth peanut butter. Any introduction of peanuts to the diet of an infant should be done ONLY with the approval of the pediatrician.

Sweet Potatoes with Peanut, inspired by Dr. George Du Toit

2 teaspoons mashed sweet potatoes (can use sweet potato flour)

1 teaspoon peanut powder (can use smooth peanut butter)

Warm water to thin

Mix together sweet potatoes and peanut powder in a small bowl. Add warm water teaspoon by teaspoon to thin to the desired consistency.