Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Nature Vs Nurture

A month or two ago I was thinking about Kid and Baby and the differences between their diets. They eat completely differently. Baby is a grazer who is interested in food 24 hours a day. Baby wanted solids at 4 months and ate her first Oreo off the floor at 6 months. She has a HUGE sweet tooth and one of her first words was "cookcook" (cookie).

In contrast Kid is a "Three Squares a Day" type eater. She hardly ever snacks and doesn't really even like snack food. She prefers savory to sweet and loves meat. I mean REALLY loves meat. She eats meat 3 x a day. It wasn't until the last two years that she started liking desserts at all... she'll eat them now... but she'll NEVER over eat them. She really will walk away from a half eaten piece of cake (she did not get that from Mr F or I!). To prove the point I just asked Kid "If you could have a giant piece of steak meat or a giant piece of cake which would you choose?" and she replied "steak meat".

So the first question is: Are these their natural food preferences or did I shape their taste preferences this way?

You see, like many of you out there, I've been a LOT more lax with Baby than I was with KId. Kid didn't have any sugar or desserts before she was three. That was a choice I made having read many times that what we are exposed to before age three does shape our lifelong tastes. I have to say that does seem to be true (so far). But it might also be true that Kid wasn't drawn to those tastes and so didn't ask for them. It's not like I set out to feed Baby Oreos before she had teeth... but she can't be denied... and I can't deny her. Is Baby a sweet tooth because I let her eat what she wants? Do I let her eat what she wants because she's the baby (YES)? Or is Baby hardwired to choose sweets over everything else?

Now let me say that my kids aren't small. They're not HUGE and I'm not worried about their weight. But they are not small kids who I ever had to worry about how much they are eating. They eat completely differently from each other and yet have pretty similar weights and heights for their ages. Kid was always big (she came out that way) and she has pretty much maintained those percentiles. Her BMI is at the high end of normal and her weight percentile is a little higher than her height. Baby is taller than she is heavy but not in a vastly different proportion. They eat well and gain well and always have. At one point Kid's Dr said Kid was in the "overweight" BMI and asked that we not go to McDonalds (yes same asshole Dr)... but at that time Kid was still breastfeeding and not eating anything but brown rice, broccoli, and chicken so it wasn't related to her food intake just where she was at in terms of growing and her body type.

But all this led me to think about my second question: How much are my kids eating?

I mean really. How many calories should kids of their age and size be eating from an overall metabolic standpoint and where do my kids fall in that range? I believe there are thin picky eaters out there who may very well eat more than Kid but just metabolize their food differently. I think there are thin picky eaters who eat less and require less. And while I believe there are some kids who are just not ever going to be thin...I also believe there are heavier kids who eat more than they need and are learning to fill up on food at an early age. What I think most of us don't know is how much they "should" be eating. Not that there is one exact answer. Not that I think we should limit what we give our kids based on an arbitrary number.... but I do think we should pay attention. I do think we should be informed and aware of what a healthy range is. Just as we should be aware of what healthy foods are.

So here is a link where you can find out what that range is.


Heather said...

Hmm. Methinks -- and this is based on a few studies I've read about eating healthy while pregnant and good nutrition from the start, that it's nurture. Didn't you do Bradley with Kid, i.e. TONS of protein?

Mrs Furious said...

It's either just innate to her or due to the lack of sweets the first three years... but I doubt the preg eating since I only did Bradley for 6 weeks... and even then I couldn't eat the recommended protein amounts. I pretty much ate the same level of protein the 2nd time around. Overall my diet was healthier through out my whole pregnancy the 2nd time.

Robin said...

Interesting. I calculated how much Kent needs and it said 1800 calories!! There is no way he is eating that much.

I have fed my kids the same way, but they have completely different appetites, so I don't think what I am doing shaped their tastes. Kent could take or leave french fries. Kara can make herself sick on them. (Not that we give them fries often...it's just an example.) Another example is cupcakes. I gave Kent a big cupcake, and he only ate 1/2. He definitely didn't get that from me. He will practically make himself sick on raisins, though. I had a group of people cracking up at me because I bribed a lollipop away from Kent by offering him a box of raisins. Kara will eat anything and has a huge appetite.

Re: weight. I think each kid has different metabolisms based on their genetics. Both my kids are tall/thin. Kent doesn't eat much, but Kara eats a lot. I am pretty sure she consumes more calories per day than Kent does. But they are both thin. My jackass doctor had me wean Kara because she was so thin. Guess what? Put her on formula and more solid food, and she didn't gain weight. She's just thin. (According to their charts anyway, which I think are a bunch of malarkey. Her legs are chubby and her butt is dimply, but she is in the 20%. Whatever. I don't know how fat they want my kids.)

Sorry about the long comment. Very interesting post.

Andrea said...

Baby girl is a strict veggie and fruit child she will eat meat occasionally but veggies and fruit she lives on and she will not eat sweets give her a cookie she will throw it in the trash give her a cupcake she'll take one lick and give it back Im not complaining just not sure where this stems from Mr. is the worst eater he hates veggies only eats fruit occasionally and prefers anything deep fried. I hope our little guy is a good eater like his sister I dont plan on doing anything different I will Breastfeed him as long as he wants and make baby food for him just like I did with her so I hope to have to healthy eaters who pay no attention to their fathers eating habits:)

Mrs Furious said...

"I don't know how fat they want my kids"

Yeah I felt that way in reverse when they said Kid was fat... seriously she was still mostly b'fing and it was clearly just her body type. Baby eats tons more garbage and is thinner so... who knows? Also Mr f and I have very different gene pools so it'll be interesting to see what happens for the girls.
Oh I added up Kid's food the other day and it was only 1200.... and she's almost 6... and at the high end of her healthy weight range. I can't begin to account for Baby since she eats all the time but it might be one or two bites of everything.

angie said...

It's a hard question. My 2 year old son has been in the under 5th percentile his whole life. You can almost see his ribs (easily done if he stretches a little). He's quite skinny. So there is a part of me that says, you want a doughnut you can have it, because I want him to gain a little weight. But for the most part he is a good eater: will eat fruit and some meats. Veggies come and go. Very few carbs (no pizza, bread, but will eat waffles and ramen noodles). He's 1/2 chinese and definitely prefers ethnic food over good old american food.

So I guess my struggle is, what's more important: making sure he doesn't develop a sweet tooth or having him gain some weight?

Nutmeg said...

Angie.. I'm so there with you.

E has dropped from 50th at 6 months to 3rd now at 18 months.

It's so hard to just say... offer him a variety of healthy foods and let him choose what and when he eats.

which is what I WANT to do. I have to let go of my stress about his consistently dropping percentiles.

So right now I'm in a... who cares if Eli doesn't eat anything but three noodles at dinner before he started making soup with his drink and then throwing food at the dog. He'd eat more if he were hungry.


Mrs Furious said...

Well I'll be interested to hear how it turns out over there. I was always so proud of Kid's eating habits... and then I had Baby ;)

Angie & Nutmeg,
It's easy for me to say since it's not a worry for me... but I think it's just their body type and as long as they are healthy you shouldn't worry. I know it's all about the percentiles the first couples years but that does lessen BIG time by age 3.
When Kid got the high BMI reading a few years back it was a similar moment for me it bothered me enough to piss me off for a long time (still?!). One reason I wanted to see how much they should eat at Kid's weight is because my gut feeling was that she didn't eat "too much" and her build is her build... but I didn't want to be wrong about that either ;)

oh and FYI Angie I can see both my girls ribs and they are 50% & 85% for weight.

angie said...


I was hoping you'd comment here. I didn't read your comment about your son's percentile until a month after you had left it (when you wrote several months ago about).

I was WAY more stressed about the percentile when he was under 1 and i was nursing (and when he was not meeting his milestones in any sort of timely fashion). Now I just have accepted the fact that he has a high metabolism (good for him) and some days just doesn't like any food. I will admit it helps that he has also met all of his milestones and he is now considered a normal 2 year old (with all the good and bad that entails). :-)

I wonder what is harder on a mother's psyche, worrying about a kid that is "underweight" or a kid that is considered "high BMI or overweight." I am guessing it matters based on age of kid.

You know, when I thought about having kids and the stress that would entail I got it all wrong. Things I thought would be stressful haven't been and things I never even thought could be stressful are incredibly stressful.

And Mrs F, thanks for the ribs comments. And, going back to nature vs. nurture, I will be very curious to see if baby #2 will need olive oil in his/her baby food :-)

Thanks for letting me write a novel.

Slacker Mama said...

I think so much of what kids eat is innate. I have two girls and my older daughter is the sweet tooth and grazer of the family. She could eat a bit every few minutes all day long if we let her. My younger one is more of a meal girl, and I was *definitely* more lax with molding her eating habits!

That said...it's easy for me to not worry *as much* as others about their diets because (1) they have always been in the healthy range and (2) they aren't picky and eat a wide range of foods -- including fruits and vegetables.

But I did do some research for "backup" when my MIL would make a fuss at how little my girls eat. Two good tidbits that I found was that (1) for kids under 4 their serving size is 1/4 of an adult serving size for every year. (So my almost 2-year old should eat about a 1/2 serving of what we eat.) and (2) Toddlers get their nutrition over the course of 48 hours (unlike 24 for adults). Which is why some kids can eat virtually nothing one day...most likely they make it up the next day.

Mrs Furious said...

Slacker Mama,
I wonder if sweet tooth and grazer go together? That's how Baby is and how I am. Kid likes savory and protein and she sits down and eats three meals a day and then doesn't really think about food in between.

P.O.M. said...

Very interesting. I just sent that link to my sister (3 yr old kid).

I think it's a little of both - nature and nurture.

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