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Baby Love: 5 Healthy, Homemade Meals for Infants (PHOTOS, RECIPES)

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When we first decided to make our children homemade purees, our main rationale was that it's healthy, easy and delicious. It just seemed like the right thing to do. But the more and more I read and learn about nutrition, the more I am convinced that it is absolutely crucial to their lifelong health and happiness. Make no mistake: what you feed your baby now will affect the rest of their lives.

Did you know that children grow more rapidly in the first year than at any other time in their lifetime? Did you know that much of a human's brain growth occurs in the first few years of life? In fact, there is so much rapid growth and cell division in the body that scientists believe infancy and the toddler years are the best window of opportunity to influence adult health. It's called "metabolic programming," the idea that the foods eaten in childhood can have long-lasting -- even permanent -- effects on how the body grows and functions and wards off disease.

I am indebted to Dr. Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., who coauthored the book "Feeding Your Child for Lifelong Health" and is also the author of "The Instinct Diet" for parents. She really opened my eyes to the powerful effects of early choices.

Dr. Roberts points out that during the early years, as all the cells throughout the body are growing, they are sensitive to availability of nutrients. "The nutrients present at this crucial time of cell division and growth help determine which cell types become predominant with each tissue," she says. These tissues and organs become important in the essential body processes of hormone production and enzyme activity. So you can see why the programming of these cells begins so early.

Dr. Roberts notes that "metabolic programming gives your child's body directions for his or her future. We know that first foods can have permanent effects on growth, strength, the immune system and intelligence -- with long term consequences for many other aspects of health and even personality. Through metabolic programming, our children's whole lives are influenced by what they eat in their early years."

Good early habits can help prevent obesity, avoid allergies, optimize bone strength and height, maybe boost intelligence, and prevent childhood and adult cancers.

The other important reason for making homemade purees is that good eating habits are learned early. Babies who eat fresh fruits and vegetables grow up to be children who eat nutritiously. It's a wonder to watch our daughter Riley eat steamed broccoli pieces like they are chocolate-covered strawberries. The nutrition experts say that from nine to eighteen months we are given this incredible opportunity to put just about anything healthy on our child's plate and train their taste buds to enjoy wholesome foods forever.

So, bottom line: healthy eating in infancy is quite simply the cornerstone of a longer, healthier and happier life.

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