Your Baby Doesn't Have to Become a Picky Eater


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

baby first year, breastfeeding, natural parenting, solid food, healthy choices, picky eaters


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Ursul... Ursula187

My daughter is 14 months old, and one of her favorite foods is tai curry with lots of vegetables.  She's a great eater!  (And, she flatly REFUSED any baby cereal.)  Though she does drink cow's milk with her snacks.  

Mommy... MommyLady

I agree completely.  I have three kids who will eat any food I give them with no problems, I breastfed and we practiced baby led solids.  One of their absolute favorite vegetables is brussel sprouts!  We definitely have a varied diet. :)

Aislinn Kathleen Mary Bradley

also agreed, my daughter was and is breastfed and baby led solids and she eats more experimentally then I do!

nonmember avatar Anon

My kids have had a variety of foods, etc. One will eat whatever I eat and then some. The other has distinct (picky) tastes, but not your typical bland/starchy ones. She likes sour, sweet, or spicy flavors, but abhors certain textures and visuals. I would note that picky eating can be part of broader sensory issues, i.e., could have nothing to do with what the child ingested during early development.

nonmember avatar Deidre

Mine is six months old, and we haven't bothered to give her any cereal, mostly because I'm cheap, and think it's a waste of money to spend money on something like that when we have perfectly good food already that she can just gum on. Which she does, with relish.

Heart... HeartCharmMama

I've always been a diverse eater as a child and still am.  In a household where lots of the meals are based with garlic, onions, green peppers and cilantro, he's already getting a good start.  He also loves broccoli and watermelon (my pregnancy craving).

Joy Higginbotham

I love a huge diversity of foods, so that's what my kids get. Though my baby girl will eat ANYTHING you put in front of her that is edible. ANYTHING. I don't like very spicy foods, but my husband does, and so does she! lol

Ashley Lippe Rozenberg

We follow a diet of traditional nutrient dense foods at our house. I'm hoping eating this way will steer my still EBF son from sugary carby foods in the future. We eat grains or starches maybe once a week, like a single slice of sprouted wheat toast slathered in grassfed butter. The rest of what we eat is lots of meat, dairy, animal fats, vegetables and small amounts of fruit. I intend on introducing my baby on foods like egg yolk, liver, and avocado instead of the "traditional" (more like standard for the past 50 years... far from tradition,) american baby weaning foods and we'll try to continue breastfeeding until he's at least 2.

mtnma... mtnmama111

they will eat what you feed them- especially if it is presented in a positive yummy way!! My 9 yo grrl's favotite is baby bell peppers and my 7yo grrl's favorite drink is water!! She takes the cheese off of her pizza. Attitude is everything for kids and food. And if you aren't eating it- don't expect them to.. You have to model proper eating habits. I used to feed my grrls almost solely from my plate as they would eat just about anything if it came off my plate...

nonmember avatar carrie

My husband, myself, and our son are all very picky eaters. We are not just picky about food, but we are just particular people in general. I also considered this a personality trait and not really a big deal. The foods we do eat are nutritious, we take vitamins, and we exercise. All 3 of us are far from overweight and healthy. We indulge sometimes, but we really try to emphasize with our son that food is for nutrition, energy, and fuel, and not always for pleasure.--Knowing that is what is important to us when it comes to food, not that he eats a variety of it.

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