Open up, Baby, here comes the airplane! Or has the time come for parents to leave the plane in the hangar (or the choo choo train at the station)?
Babies who are spoon-fed pureed foods during weaning are more likely to crave sweets and become overweight as they grow up compared to children who start solids by feeding themselves finger foods, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK. The study followed 155 children between 20 months and 6 years old. Parents were asked to fill out questionnaires detailing how the child was weaned (spoon-fed by a parent or allowed to feed themselves using their fingers), the child's eating habits over the years, and their food preferences.
At first, researchers believed they would find that young children who controlled their own eating would be heavier. Instead, they found the opposite. Spoon-fed babies were the ones who were more likely to be obese as toddlers. Eight of the 63 spoon-fed children became obese, while none of the 63 self-feeding children were.
"That was interesting," says Dr. Ellen Townsend, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham in England, who led the study (via NPR). "Maybe with spoon feeding, if you've lovingly prepared a delicious portion, and you might want to get that portion into that child. There may be a temptation to try to get in an extra spoonful or two."
Dr. Townsend also notes that the difference in obesity rates seems to be based in what kinds of tastes the two groups of tots developed preferences for. Children who were introduced early to finger foods developed a hankering for more satisfying carbohydrates like toasted pita bread and pasta. On the other hand, spoon-fed babies tended to crave sweeter foods like sugary fruit purees.
So skip the spoon? Finger-feeding and baby-led weaning leading to healthier food preferences in young children could truly be a matter of baby knows best, says Dr. Townsend.
"Our study suggests that baby-led weaning has a positive impact on the liking for foods that form the building blocks of healthy nutrition, such as carbohydrates. Maybe it's time to let the little guy get messy and feed himself," Dr. Townsend tells the BBC.
Need ideas for easy finger foods when your baby is ready? Try O-shaped toasted oat cereal, small pieces of lightly toasted bread or bagels, small chunks of banana, well-cooked pasta spirals (cut into pieces), and very small chunks of soft cheese.