Hint: It starts with pregnancy and babies
Have you ever thought of teaching your child to prefer healthy foods starting at conception, continuing through pregnancy, breastfeeding and solid food introduction?
Teaching an infant to prefer healthy foods full of texture, color and aroma sets the foundation for healthy eating habits that last a lifetime, and will help minimize picky eating. Teach your child flavor preference with these tips from registered dietitian, Clancy Cash Harrison.
Eat a variety of flavors while pregnant and breastfeeding. Tiny taste buds begin to form in the fetus and further develop in infancy. The food choices we make while pregnant and breastfeeding have the potential to expose an infant to a variety of flavors and aromas. If a pregnant or breast-feeding mother eats garlic, the child will taste garlic. Even more fascinating, the infant will remember the taste of those flavors after birth, encouraging food acceptance later in infancy.
Allow your baby to take part in the family meals when they are developmentally ready to start solids. Including your child in the family meal teaches the child they are expected to eat what and when the family eats.
Add small amounts of flavor to baby food. Whether you are serving homemade baby food, commercial food or a combination of both, adding a dash or pinch of mild herbs and spices to baby food is a great start to teaching flavor preference. I am not suggesting the use of peppery herbs or spices.
Offer food sensory experiences away from the table. Allow your child to experience the color, aroma, texture and shape of food without the expectation of eating it. After a visit to the farmer’s market, I often lay a clean blanket on the floor and allow my child to explore the fresh produce. Popular vegetables for sensory play are ginger root, celery, carrots, beets, turnips, asparagus, green beans, potatoes and a garlic bulb.
Let your infant explore his food at the table while feeding. Exploring food with fingers and hands is completely different than playing with food. New foods are better accepted if the child is allowed to touch, taste, and smell the food on their own without the pressure to eat it. A child who is able to self-feed at his or her own pace is more likely to accept the food and even prefer it.
Add variety within the same food. Many of us think of variety as offering different types of produce at each meal. Variety can also include offering the same produce prepared differently. If a child refuses coined carrots, offer them mashed or in spears the next time. Read 100 Ways to Serve 10 Fruits & Vegetables.
Throw out processed foods and replace them with whole natural foods. Begin the process of removing highly processed foods from your pantry. Convenience foods teach flavor preference for the foods we should eat minimally. Fresh produce is nature’s natural convenience food.
Reduce sugar and salt and increase the use of fresh herbs. Add cumin, basil, parsley, cilantro, cinnamon and other great tasting herbs and spices to your food instead of salt or sugar. Subscribe to www.FieldsofFlavor.com to receive a free food and herb pairing guide to help you in the transition.
Don’t offer the same food two days in a row (unless you are breastfeeding). This rule is good to prevent getting stuck in a rut with favorite foods, which commonly happens with young children. If you are already stuck in a food rut, it is not too late to start the rule; just be clear with your child about expectations.
Get creative and explore new foods on your own. Look up new and exciting ways to prepare something that is on your staple menu rotation.
My goal is to try something new everyday. This includes preparing a favorite food but preparing it differently by changing the texture, temperature or spice. Remember, teaching your child to prefer wholesome food flavors starts with you.
Clancy Cash Harrison M.S., R.D. L.D.N, is a registered dietitian and mother of two. Find more information in her book, Feeding Baby, or blog, Fields of Flavor.
Published: September 2014