Struggles with picky eaters is a commonly heard complaint from moms. My kids won't eat anything but chicken nuggets. My daughter hates drinking water. He's waged war against anything leafy. She only eats white bread. We've heard these issues way too often.
And this week we learn that finicky eating could be directly linked to our children's diet as a baby -- both what they drink and what they eat.
We already know babies can recognize different flavors. They taste them in the womb from the foods you eat when you're pregnant, as well as in their early weeks and months while they're breastfeeding. And it's those flavors, the ones that babies are exposed to when they are 2- to 5-months old, that can affect their food preferences for life -- for better or worse, according to an eye-opening study from the Monell Chemical Sciences Center in Philadelphia.
There's still a lot that we don't know about infants' developmental eating habits and how they translate into older kids. But based on this new research we can make some strong assumptions about that. And one thing we can say for certain: babies tastebuds go into high gear right from the get-go.
In some tests, a group of babies who were fed sour tasting formula (similar to the high-calorie kind given to preemies) got so used to the taste they continued to like it even as they got older, long past weaning. Another group of babies who weren't given the sour formula in those first six months outright rejected it when it was offered to them at an older age.
And all these formula tests are great news for breastfeeding moms why? Because it means breastfed babies, who are basically sampling the same foods that their moms eat, would seem to enjoy a wider variety of flavors than formula-fed counterparts, even into toddlerhood and as far as adolescence.
The coolest part about this speculation is that as babies start discovering things to put in their mouths, they'll recognize tastes and flavors from their days in the womb. But herein lies the rub: Mom needs to eat the right things. All throughout her pregnancy and while she's nursing.
This research suggests that when newborns are fed bland diets in the first months, like the typical American menu of formula, rice cereal, bland, unseasoned baby food, rice puffs, and cow's milk, that's all he'll want when he's older. You know, the typical toddler "beige carbohydrate" preference, such as white breads, white rice, salt, and sugars. In fact, there's a strong argument against these "white" foods, especially for babies.
If you're breastfeeding, you may have a leg up, as long as you continue to eat a wide variety of healthy foods (which is best for you anyway). If you're not nursing, when you do introduce foods, try skipping the bland and flavorless, unnecessary carbs like white rice cereal and puffs. Go for a wide variety of real flavors and tastes instead. If you puree foods, try doing it at home where the cooking and processing and watering down foods won't kill all the flavors, or try baby-led solids where you just start out with whole foods and even spices.
Most of all, it's good to know that babies CAN handle flavor -- by assuming they can't, we really shouldn't be surprised when, as they get older, they don't branch out in tastes. Start your kids out with adventurous eating and they're more likely to continue that way. Start them out with bland, basic, and carb-loaded foods, and well ... welcome to the "Standard American Diet," aptly shortened to "SAD."
Though sometimes despite your best efforts, kids can go through phases where they really limit themselves to certain foods. Kids who may not be neuro-typical aside, at that point you can really just choose what you allow and what you don't. If they're demanding peanut butter, say it can only go with bananas or after some sweet potato fries. Allow kids, even toddlers, to choose from a variety of fresh fruits and veggies themselves. Often food battles are about control, not taste, especially if you've given them an appreciation of a variety of foods in infancy.
Do you follow the standard American diet of carbs, or do you eat a wide variety of fruits and veggies?
Image via Christie Haskell