BabyCenter Featured Expert
posted in Life & Home
By Dr. Alan Greene, Pediatrician, Author, and Advisor to Plum Organics
Some parents lament that they have little control over what their children are willing to eat. It can be so frustrating. The good news is that parents have a unique window of time to educate and influence children’s taste buds: the first few years of life.
Introducing a wide variety of good-for-you foods in all colors and textures during this time stacks the cards in parents’ favor. It enables kids to develop their Nutritional Intelligence. Taste preferences form rapidly when children are young — they can even form via what Mom eats while pregnant and during breastfeeding. We now know that kids’ likes and dislikes can be shaped by experiencing food with all the senses, not just taste.
Giving kids great food from the start is a wonderful gift to them. Why not do all you can to help them enjoy it? Try engaging their little noses, eyes, hands, and even ears as well as their taste buds in their food experience. Here are some helpful tips on relying on all of the senses to raise a healthy, adventurous eater.
Babies are watching what we eat. You’ll likely notice them staring, if you haven’t already. They also remember. Studies suggest that even a single experience of watching an adult eat a specific food can increase the odds of a child wanting to eat that food much later. Being a role model is a powerful position!
Serve meals with bright colors — think orange yams, green beans, and red berries. I also suggest making it a habit to feed your baby something green at lunch and dinner. I believe that if babies become accustomed to color, it may make it easier to keep their diet varied and balanced in future years. For these kids, brown-beige meals, such as grilled cheese and potato chips, look boring — they may know intuitively that something’s missing.
If you open an avocado or banana for yourself or for the baby, use the opportunity for visual learning. Even if you only feed your baby pouch purées of banana, still hold up a real banana next to him from time to time to try to help make the connection.
Smell and taste are tightly linked. For an example, it can be hard to guess the flavor of a jellybean if you are blindfolded; but it’s nearly impossible if you also pinch your nose.
Smell is an important way babies explore their world and learn about their food. Sometimes you may want to bring food close to your baby’s nose briefly (the smell of a fresh peach you are slicing, for instance), to increase his desire for the food and help him connect the aroma with what he sees. Other times, you may want to let the waft of an aroma alert your baby before he gets a chance to see or taste it — sort of an olfactory game of peekaboo.
And cook your favorites dishes with herbs, spices, and aromatic ingredients like onion, garlic, and ginger. Yum!
Babies, untamed by forks until they’re older, delight in pinching, grasping, shoving, squishing, tossing, and otherwise exploring their food with their hands. Don’t hold them back.
Also, you don’t want all of your baby’s foods perfectly puréed. Be sure to provide soft chunks and irregularities that are easily managed and swallowed (remembering to be mindful of choking hazards). This variety can prepare them to accept more foods and textures later on.
When it comes to toddlers being willing to eat chopped carrots, for example, their willingness appears to depend as much, if not more, on their experience with textures than on their experiences with flavor. So try to serve foods of a variety of consistencies as the months go by — if they have enough teeth and experience to handle them. And even at the beginning of solid introduction, an occasional fork-smashed banana or avocado is an exciting addition to a diet of pure purées.
Welcome your baby into the kitchen not only so she can enjoy the sights and aromas of food, but also so she’ll hear sizzling, popping, boiling, whirring, whipping, and all kinds of other stimulating sounds.
Also, taste preferences are forming at the same time that babies are rapidly learning to understand new words — they may understand a hundred words before they say their first word. Naming a food each time a child eats can help the food become more familiar and trusted. And if you’re using baby signs, consider using signs for specific foods.
In our final post next week, we’ll dig into the new thinking on allergens. Until then, bon appetit!
For more tips on getting a solid start, visit Plum Organics Resource Center.
About Alan Greene, MD
An industry leader with a progressive approach to wellness, Dr. Greene is a practicing pediatrician, author, Pediatric Advisor to Plum Organics, children’s health advocate and father of four. His website, DrGreene.com, is cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician web site” and he was named “The Children’s Health Hero of the Internet” by Intel. Dr. Greene is the author of “Feeding Baby Green,” “Raising Baby Green,” and “From First Kicks to First Steps.”
This post is sponsored by Plum Organics.