Innate Attraction to All Kinds of Flavors
It’s human nature to have a fondness for sweets, but we take it further than necessary with most processed baby foods. Infants are born with a preference for both salty and sweet flavors, and they tend to be more sensitive to anything spicy and bitter. This makes sense, as children evolved by drinking naturally sweet breast milk for their first few months.
However, it’s a misconception to assume that all meals from mom taste the same. Breast milk is subtly flavored by everything that you eat, and this taste connection begins long before birth. In fact, research shows that amniotic fluid itself is flavored based on what the mother eats. This means that infants spend nine months living in a tasting-rich world where they are exposed to the same flavors as their mom.
Feeding Baby Across the Globe
Across much of the world, this eating style barely changes when the baby is born. Children from just about everywhere but America grow up eating whatever the rest of the family is having. For instance, Indian infants get small tastes of spicy curry with yogurt while German children are just as likely to receive mashed carrots and parsnips. That’s not to say that babies are served these foods in the same ways their parents eat them.
Most dishes are pureed, and anything strongly flavored is typically diluted with rice, bread, or ghee so that flavors aren’t too spicy or bitter.
But even diluted, this early food tasting makes a difference. By being exposed to a variety of flavors from a young age, these kids are often willing to try new foods when they get older. However, the baby feeding routine for American parents doesn’t fit the pattern.
“The American Way” of Baby Food
Babies are born exposed to a range of flavors as broad as their mom’s diet. However, the American baby food industry has defined a specific type of food as being appropriate for children, and it typically involves masking strong flavors with sugar or salt so that babies like it within a taste or two. The process starts with selling parents extra sweet baby foods that build up a baby’s tolerance for sugar, and it undermines a parent’s authority to get their kid to eat healthier, vegetable-based meals instead.
Even worse, turning infants from breast milk to formula and pre-made baby foods will limit these flavor experiences to a narrow range of processed options and affects their willingness to try anything different. While all babies are born with a fairly broad exposure to different flavors, standard American baby food slowly stifles their taste experience back to bland and sweet.
This is a culture-wide problem with how we address feeding children. Look at any American kids’ menu, and you’ll find it full of bland, salty options like tater tots, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs. Other countries, in contrast, don’t differentiate nearly as strongly between children and adult foods.
Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Child’s Palate
So what can you do to help your child to appreciate healthier flavors? Experts note that babies are most open to experimenting with new tastes between ages four and seven months. Even within that window, they state, it’s reasonable to expect your child to turn away a new food at least five or ten times before they try it. This is their inbuilt survival mechanism to reject anything new in case it might be dangerous. In other words, parents shouldn’t give up when they receive a negative response- their baby might be just a few tries away from liking the new food.
Feeling skeptical? Research backs up the “try it until you like it” mentality. An experiment on infants that were trying pureed green beans for the first time showed children are more accepting of unsweet flavors than we think. During the experiment, the babies were offered the beans daily for over a week, and by the end of the trial they got over their dislike and were eating an average of three times the amount of beans during every feeding session.
But here’s the critical detail- the mothers couldn’t tell. In their perspective, their children were just as picky at the end of the test as they were on day one. Tragically, this means in a normal situation that many of the mothers in the experiment might have stopped feeding their child beans under the assumption they would never learn to like them! An opportunity to develop an appreciation for a nutritious food would be delayed, possibly for years.
Feed Your Baby Wholesome Food from the Beginning
If you’re balking at the idea of dulling your child’s willingness to accept new flavors, a better option is to expose your child to healthier baby foods. Forget the sweetened fruit blends on most store shelves and seek out brands that focus on vegetables and wholesome ingredients instead. This will ensure your child learns to appreciate the taste of real food from the very beginning.
At White Leaf Provisions, we are proud to offer all-natural, biodynamic-certified baby food that is blended with baby’s best interest in mind. Our 100% veggie blend of carrot, sweet potato and pea is popular even with picky eaters, despite not tasting as sweet as standard baby food. It’s the perfect option for preventing your baby from developing a sweet tooth, and every ingredient it contains was grown in a way that’s good for the planet.
You can browse our broader product selection of 100% biodynamically certified foods here.