The palatable, energy-dense foods that make up our modern food environment can promote unhealthy eating habits. Developing a liking for sweet tastes can mean a rejection of more sour and bitter tastes – the sorts of tastes found in many healthy foods such as vegetables. Food tastes are not set in stone, so the early stage of life represents the most fertile time to set these malleable food preferences on the right path.
How eating habits can be influenced during early life stages was the focus of a recent narrative review. The research team reviewed 40 studies looking at how infants and young children develop a taste for healthy foods, especially vegetables and fruits.
The key finding was that repeatedly exposing kids to a variety of healthy foods during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood predicted better adoption of such foods later on.
Even during pregnancy, healthy eating is important as the food flavours can make their way into the uterus exposing the fetus to them. Breastfeeding also can pass on flavours of healthy foods to the infant. Taken together, there is much that can influence an infant’s food tastes even before they take their first mouthful of solids.
After infancy, the simple process of repeated exposure of the child to healthy foods, even ones they reject initially, can help them develop a taste for those foods. For parents, if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try and try again.
Exposure to a variety of healthy foods from the start of a child’s life, including during the prenatal period, early milk-feeding and the introduction to complementary foods and beverages, can support later acceptance of those foods.