Early exposure to different flavours helps kids develop taste for variety of foods
"Ew." It’s a word many parents hear when they serve a meal to their child. But before getting frustrated, parents should know that children taste different flavours in foods than adults do.
According to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, exposing children to various types of foods early and often will help them develop a taste for different foods.
"Children have sensitive taste buds, and they taste what we smell," said Roberta Anding, registered dietitian with BCM and Texas Children’s Hospital. "Certain foods may have a stronger taste for them than they do for adults."
This is why exposing children to various types of food at an early age is important. It starts with breastfeeding, which exposes them to a variety of flavours, she said.
"Early imprinting will help alter their taste perceptions," said Anding.
Don’t give up after offering a new food just one or two times, she said, because it can take 10 to 15 food exposures for a child to actually like the food. However, forcing or cajoling a child to eat a food will ruin a food experience for them, making them less likely to be willing to try the food again.
"Ask that they at least take one bite of the food," said Anding. "Try introducing the food again when the child is hungry."
Because 80 percent of taste is smell, children might be more willing to try raw vegetables rather than cooked ones, since they don’t have as strong a smell, she said.
Getting children involved in the preparation of the food can also help. But Anding does not support another age-old tactic – hiding vegetables and fruits under sauces and toppings, most of which are unhealthy.
"This makes something that would be considered a nutritious food no longer nutritious," she said.
Rewarding children with food is also not a good idea. It elevates the status of food and makes certain foods or treats more valuable to children.
"Remember that as a parent, your reaction to food has an influence on your children," said Anding. "So if you cringe at the sight of a certain food, chances are they will too."
(Source: Baylor College of Medicine: April 2009)