Our previous article, Why is it so challenging to get your little one to like veggies? (1), helped us understand the underlying reason why our tiny tots are not always born vegetable lovers. Now it’s time for the positive: Good taste is learnable!
Children reject certain foods and especially vegetables due to a genetic predisposition for an innate preference for sweet (1). Factors such as the texture, smell and the colour of food also play a role in developing a child’s pallet (4). This article highlights five techniques recommended by doctors and midwives that will help you to train your baby’s tastes and develop his/her senses:
To increase acceptability, it is important to introduce your baby to vegetables during complementary feeding, starting at 6 months. This period is a critical window of opportunity when breastmilk or formula is not enough to meet the nutritional needs of a baby and so a diet that includes more vegetables and less sugar will lay a strong foundation for healthy eating practices.
Researchers assert that imprinted behaviour “cannot be forgotten” and occurs only during “a narrowly-defined period in the individual's life” (5,6). Therefore, it is critical to introduce a nutritious diet that includes more vegetables and less sugar during this window of opportunity. In other words, including vegetables during complementary feeding helps your child develop a preference for them when he or she grows older. Thus, laying an important foundation for healthy eating practices also contributes to reduced associated health risks during adulthood.
2. Repeated exposure
Next to starting early, trying over and over again is probably one of the most important and effective methods to promote vegetable acceptance among children. According to a recent scientific study, parents are found to usually give up after 3 or 4 trials when their child rejects a certain food. However, the research suggests that it could take up to 8 or even 15 times before a child develops a preference for a specific food. In one study, scientists used a Facial Action Coding System that measured the changes in facial expressions of children as they tried different vegetables. It was found that the expressions became less negative when kids were exposed to a food repeatedly (2). Therefore, studies conducted all over the world encourage parents to not give up and try feeding their kids a particular food multiple times to increase familiarity and acceptance (3,4,5,6). We know it is easier said than done, but don't give up!
3. Including diversity and variety
As adults do, children love variety too. Offering different colours and creations will encourage your baby to explore food through taste, smell, sight, and touch and feel, thereby providing a complete sensory experience. According to the study ‘Variety is the spice of life: Strategies for promoting fruit and vegetable acceptance during infancy’, children accept unfamiliar tastes more readily if there is variety. Researchers also claim that repeated visual exposure to food promotes familiarity of colour and texture and hence better food acceptance (4). Simply put, exposure to different vegetables develops their pallet (3,5,6).
4. Be a role model
Your baby wants to eat what you eat so make sure that it sees you enjoying your food and that you eat want you want your baby to eat. Eating meals together as a family also provides comfort to a baby and encourages them to try different foods. Experts in a study believe that many children are deprived of various sensory experiences simply because vegetable consumption is low among children and their family members (2). In other words, there is a lack of peer modelling to encourage kids to develop tastes. (2,4)
5. Introduce new food through your baby's favourite food
Another tip is to use favourite flavors to introduce new ingredients to your babies. For example, if your little one is not really a fan of broccoli or peas, introduce these vegetables with a food of his/her choice such as avocado, carrot or banana. It is recommended to use this approach as a last resort since our aim is to help children develop a taste for different foods especially bitter tasting vegetables (5). If you're looking for some inspiration, check out our recipes!
At Pumpkin Organics, we believe that the responsibility of developing a baby's food pallet should not just be on the parents' shoulders. It is important that manufacturers provide food choices that help develop into healthy food preferences as our children grow older. We take this responsibility seriously and though a variety of vegetable purees low in sugar, we hope to promote vegetable acceptability from the 6th month onwards. Click here to learn more about our products.