Developing Your Child’s Palate and Taste Preferences
Updated: Oct 27
Did you know that you can influence the foods your child prefers from an early age?
A child’s diet during the first few years can establish life-long eating habits.
Healthy eating actually begins before birth. Flavors from the mother’s diet are transmitted through the amniotic fluid. Maintaining a nutrient-rich and varied diet during pregnancy is the start of good nutrition for your child. (see 11/23 post on How to Feed Your Baby Before Birth).
Mother offering healthy food to her children
The first few years play a significant role in determining eating behaviors in children. What a parent feeds and does not feed their child can train their palate toward healthy food selections. Early and repeated dietary exposures predict later food preferences. Choosing nutritional foods will help to prevent obesity and a multitude of diseases later in life.
Infants may refuse food presented but parents try, try again!
Research shows that repeat exposures, up to 15 to 20 times, may be necessary before a child eats a new or previously rejected food. Patience is key! Offering a variety of foods is beneficial, as is pairing a new food with a familiar, preferred food. These methods can increase the acceptance of new foods.
Another method is to offer a tiny taste of a new item daily for two weeks but at a time other than mealtime. If taken, reward your child with positive feedback, such as singing a song, dancing, or even a sticker. If it is refused or spit out, simply offer again the following day. Studies done using this method (the reward was a sticker) showed after two weeks, most children ate previously rejected food.
The best predictor of what a child eats is what the parents eat and serve. Children model themselves after their parents’ eating behaviors. What you don’t eat is just as important as what you do eat. These parental influences are most important during the first few years before school, friends, and marketing exert their influence.
Recommendations for introducing infants and toddlers to solids and new foods:
Start solids with green vegetables; these aren't as sweet as the yellow and orange ones
Consider starting green vegetables as the first foods (after baby cereals). Green vegetables aren’t as sweet as yellow/orange vegetables and have more fiber, thus are less likely to cause firm stools.
Offer new items daily or every other day to increase the variety and watch closely for any food reactions.
Take advantage of ages 6-20 months when little ones like to put everything in their mouths. These ages may be more receptive to new foods, so offer lots of variety. You choose the foods but let them decide how much they eat.
Variety includes different foods and the same food prepared differently. For example, a potato can be baked, boiled, roasted, or mashed. You create variety by changing the preparation method, appearance, and texture.
Be wary of giving too many snacks or beverages during the two hours before mealtime.
Watch the milk intake. Too much milk, more than 24 ounces a day, can lead to constipation and iron deficiency anemia.
Repeat exposures don’t have to be daily but should occur several times a week. As mentioned, pairing a new food with an already preferred food increases the chances of accepting the new food.
Forcing a child to eat something is a scary experience for a child. Keep mealtime relaxed, offer variety, but allow your child to choose the amount.
I highly recommend parents learn infant CPR to know what to do if your child chokes.
Model eating behavior in yourself that you want your child to follow
10. Finally, model in yourself what you desire for your child.
After all, they are constantly watching and imitating you!