Getting your kids to eat healthy foods is one of the many challenging aspects of parenthood. I’ve been with clients’ kids at mealtimes, and I know how the best-intentioned parents can cave into sugary treats and pasta yet again to get their kid to just eat something. I’ve also prepared food for the kids, and I know how picky they can be!
But ensuring your children eat a healthy diet is an extremely important responsibility as a parent, however, because we develop our flavor preferences and eating habits in childhood. Getting your kids off to a healthy start can affect their eating habits and health for the rest of their lives.
When Do Preferences Develop?
Just when do kids actually begin to develop their flavor preferences? Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center sought to answer just that question, and determined that flavor preferences can develop in the first four months of life. The foods a mother chooses while breastfeeding pass on to the child via breast milk, which can cause flavor preferences for certain foods to develop.
Similarly, another study by the Eating Behavior and Child Development Center found that while breastfeeding does help infants initially accept new foods, this only occurs if the food is something the mother eats regularly. Following weaning, children need repeated exposure to foods in order to develop a taste for it. So don’t give up if your child doesn’t drink the GGS or eat salad right off the bat! Keep trying. I have personally seen lots of young children slurp their GGS down. You can tell them it’s a green superhero drink or just put another banana in it. Or if you start early enough, a green drink isn’t anything out of the ordinary in the first place!
Tips for Helping Your Children Develop Healthy Food Preferences
Laying the foundation early can result in a lifelong habit of making healthier choices. As a parent, you have more influence in your child’s flavor preferences than you might imagine. Here’s how you can help your kids develop healthier eating habits and flavor preferences.
1. Start with what you eat when you’re pregnant.
Studies have shown that what a mother eats during pregnancy can also affect her child’s acceptance of new foods during weaning. Most mothers know that eating healthy foods during pregnancy is important for a fetus’s growth and development, but they may be less aware that the foods they choose will also affect how willing their child is to eat new foods as they are weaned. It’s much easier to introduce flavors like kale and greens by eating them yourself when you are pregnant than it is repeatedly exposing your child to that new flavor over time later in life. The bottom line? Eat lots of healthy plant foods and drink the Glowing Green Smoothie when you are pregnant and you’ll not only get your baby off to a great start health-wise, but you’ll also help them develop a preference for healthier foods.
2. Breastfeed, and eat healthy foods when you do.
Breastfeeding not only gets your child off to a healthy start by strengthening his or her immune system and reducing potential future food sensitivities, but it also gives you further opportunity to develop your child’s taste for healthy foods. If you are feeding your child formula, you’ll have far less influence on the development of taste preferences. Eating healthy, raw plant foods not only helps make your breast milk super nutritious for your baby, but it also exposes him or her to the flavors of healthy foods, allowing your child to develop a lifelong love of foods that are good for him! If you are a working mother, you can still give your child the benefit of breastfeeding. Many commercial breast pumps are very efficient and allow you to collect and store milk for your child while you are at work.
3. Don’t wean too soon
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding your child for at least 12 months, while the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first two years of life. Breastfeeding for the first one to two years of your child’s life allows you a significant period of influence in developing flavor preferences. I know this isn’t possible for many mothers, but do your best.
4. Make your child’s first solid foods pureed vegetables
Many parents start their children on solid foods at about 4 to 6 months. In many cases, the first food offered is a grain cereal such as rice cereal. Feeding your children these white foods at an early age, however, can be disastrous for developing flavor preferences. Most white grain cereals are sweet and bland, and introducing them to your child at four months can develop a taste for white foods, which have very little nutrition. Instead, offer your child pureed vegetables at an age when he or she can tolerate them – usually at about the age of six months – as their first food. Try making pureed yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.
5. Don’t give your child juice, soft drinks, or sugary foods
Offering a child anything sugary or sweet can override their desire for other flavors. You can give your child some pureed fruit when he or she is physically ready to eat it, but make this only a small part of his or her diet. Children should drink water. When did the whole juice at every meal and snack time thing get started? It just loads them with pure, liquid sugar.
6. When you do introduce grains, make them whole, non-gluten grains
Avoid white flour and processed grains, as well as wheat, barley, rye, and oatmeal that isn’t labeled gluten-free. Try grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and amaranth instead. These are rich in minerals and nutrients and save all the potential issues of wheat and gluten.
7. Continue to offer healthy foods, even if your child doesn’t like them at first
As your child grows, the best way to develop healthy flavor preferences is repeated and consistent exposure to the foods you’d like her to eat. Offer the food and allow your child to see you eating it, as well. Monkey see, monkey do!
Developing healthy flavor preferences in your child lays the groundwork for healthy eating throughout life and will help them reach their full potential in all aspects of their life. Give your child the best start possible by helping him or her establish a healthy palate…they’ll thank you later!