We’re not going to advise you to revert to pureed bananas, baby food jars, and tiny spoons. But kids may just be on to something when it comes to healthy eating habits. If those adorable little ones could talk, they’d tell us:
Baby habit: I eat slowly, and I savor each bite.
Grown-up lesson: Eat one bite at a time, take small bites, and chew a lot. Our health editor shares, “You’ll never see my son devour anything…he eats a bowl of cereal one oatmeal square at a time.” Eating your food slower helps you eat less of it. Eastern Illinois University researchers gave two groups of study participants pistachio nuts; one got the nuts already shelled, and the other had to de-shell them (and thus ate more slowly). The first set took in 211 calories, on average, while the second only 125 calories—but both groups rated their fullness and satisfaction levels exactly the same.
Baby habit: I try new foods.
Grown-up lesson: Instead of ordering your usual greens, get the kale. Experimenting with new foods gives you a more diverse mix of nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins. The more various your diet, the better: One recent study showed that eating lots of different veggies can help lower your risk of diabetes. Still saying yuck? Take a page from parents of picky kids and keep reintroducing the offending foods, experimenting with different recipes until you find one that’s good. Give it five chances before you move on.
Baby habit: I’ll eat—and maybe even enjoy—foods I can’t see or taste.
Grown-up lesson: Slip healthy ingredients into shakes (like our banana-chocolate smoothie) or surround raw veggie bites with a dip of creamy hummus. Make fruits and veggies more convenient, too, by keeping on a counter or cut up in the front of your fridge. As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, trendy baby food brands are even marketing towards adults now. Try Happy Family organic pouches in flavors like broccoli, peas and pear, or apricot and sweet potato; Buddy Fruits pure fruit bites; or GoGo Squeez applesauce.
Baby habit: When I’m full, I push your plate away (or better yet, throw my food on the floor).
Grown-up lesson: Before reaching for seconds, wait 20 minutes to see if you’re still hungry or if your stomach just hadn’t let your brain know you were done. On a similar note, don’t eat because you think it’s time to chow; eat if you feel hungry. Kids intuitively know when they need food. Try getting a toddler to eat just because it’s 6 p.m.—if he ain’t hungry, you’ll get nowhere!
Baby habit: Sitting down at the big table is exciting and fun!
Grown-up lesson: Remember the Sesame Street bowls and truck-shaped utensils when you were a kid? Get out the adult equivalent, ie your nice plates and silverware, and festive glasses. It’ll make eating more of an experience to savor.
Baby habit: That baby food jar? It’s my Standard Unit of Yumminess.
Grown-up lesson: Learn portion control—and how to eyeball the right amount for you. For instance, just one good-sized handful of almonds, or about 23 of ‘em, is the ideal daily portion recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (which coincidentally is about the amount you can fit in a small baby jar). Don’t have any empty jars handy? A shot glass, the amount you can spread over a 3×3” sticky note, or a small spice bottle can do the trick.