What does the scientific research show is the strongest predictor of whether a two year old will eat a food? A common guess is sweetness. Did you guess this? Interestingly, sweetness isn’t the strongest predictor of whether a child will eat a food. The strongest predictor is familiarity. In other words, the best way to get a child to eat vegetables during the notorious picky eating phase is to have fed them those veggies many times before.
There are a few things going on with taste buds that influence children’s food preferences. First, babies are born with an innate enjoyment of sweetness. If you’ve ever tasted breast milk, you will notice that it is quite sweet. The enjoyment of all other flavours – salty, sour, bitter, spicy – is learned. Now of course there is individual variability. However, this is how young children from some cultures can handle spicy foods, while even adults from other cultures (like me) can’t take the heat. This is also how people from many cultures enjoy very strong flavours from their cultures but those of us who aren’t from those cultures strongly dislike those foods. Examples include the Aussie love of vegemite, the Brit’s love of marmite and the Japanese love of natto.
Second, children’s taste buds are different than us adults. The result is that kids experience bitter flavours more strongly than we do. Many veggies naturally have a bitter flavour profile. These are the veggies that can be notoriously difficult to get kids to eat. Veggies such as leafy greens (e.g. Swiss chard, spinach), and veggies in the cabbage family such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
What does this mean for you if you’re introducing your baby to solid foods? Don’t be surprised if your baby doesn’t like many veggies from the first bite. Many parents see this response from their baby and they never feed the veggie to their baby again. Instead, you want to do the exact opposite. Research shows that repeated exposure to veggies as first foods is the best way to grow enjoyment of those foods. You’re teaching your baby to like those foods – positively influencing their taste bud development and childhood eating habits.
Child-Feeding Expert Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD helps moms and dads support your picky kids to get good nutrition today…and instill a life-long love of healthy eating. Find out more at www.KristenYarker.com