Developing food preferences
The transition to solid foods is an exciting, but often stressful, time for most new parents. Don’t become so distracted by the logistical details and the mechanics of feeding Baby that you miss the bigger picture. Infancy is a key time in the development of Baby’s future food preferences – and your first opportunity to encourage Baby to enjoy the foods that will help her become a healthy eater. What Baby eats today will shape his or her tastes for life.
Some of our food preferences are influenced by genes and anatomy. For example, researchers have found a specific gene that heightens the experience of bitter flavors. Presumably, babies who have this gene may not easily accept foods like spinach or kale. We also know that the concentration of taste buds on our tongues can affect how we experience flavors.
Our genes and our bodies are not the only factors that determine what foods we like and dislike, however. We can learn to like and dislike foods. Exposure to foods is one of the most powerful factors in the development of food preferences. This means that as parents we actually get a chance to shape Baby’s food preferences.
Shaping Baby’s tastes begins before she’s born
Baby’s exposure to foods actually began long before she took her first bite of solids. When she was in the womb, around eight weeks after conception, her taste buds appeared. Later, during the second trimester, she used those taste buds as she started swallowing and inhaling amniotic fluid and tasting the hints of the flavors from the foods you ate that day. By the time she was born she could already distinguish between sweet and bitter flavors (not surprisingly, most babies prefer sweet). Baby’s flavor lessons continue with every sip of your breast milk, which takes on the flavor of some of the foods in your diet.
The more times a baby or child is exposed to a flavor or food, the more likely she is to accept it. Experts suspect that this is why breastfed babies, with their early exposure to a variety of flavors in breast milk, are less likely to be picky eaters. The flavor of infant formula, on the other hand, tastes the same day-to-day. Consider this: children in India eat curries and Asian babies eat ginger. Ask many American moms if their young toddlers eat such “exotic” fare and the answer is likely to be no. Do Indian and Asian children have more sophisticated palates? Not at all. They were simply introduced to these flavors from a very early age – from before they were even born – and are now used to them.
Veggies first? Does it matter?
Many people believe that if you start a baby on fruits, she’ll get used to sweet foods and won’t take veggies later. This theory has never been researched, however. No one has taken a group of a thousand babies, started different groups of babies on various foods, and monitored which group becomes the better eaters later on.
If you are worried about fruits first, you’re welcome to start with a veggie. But follow it up with a fruit a few days later. Don’t agonize over your decision about which food comes first. Soon enough, Baby will be eating a variety of foods and the order in which they were introduced won’t matter.