What a mom eats during pregnancy and afterwards influences her child’s taste preferences. Eat healthy so your child will grow up with a taste for healthy foods.
No matter how many ways you prepare veggies and try to convince your toddler carrots are yummier than potato chips and cookies, you may find yourself in a tough battle. Picky eaters can be so determined it’s hard not to give in to them more often than you should.
But research shows there’s a way many new moms can gain an early start on halting picky eating before it starts.
Mothers who eat healthy foods while pregnant or nursing can help instill a love of specific tastes in their babies and toddlers. That’s because flavors in the food you eat during pregnancy are transmitted to amniotic fluid and swallowed by your unborn baby, potentially influencing taste preferences. And when you nurse, flavors in foods are also transferred to your infant through breast milk.
A study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, by scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, looked at three groups of new moms to see if their eating carrots influenced whether their babies liked the vegetable. One group of mothers drank carrot juice about four days a week during the last month of their pregnancies but drank only water while nursing; another group drank only water while pregnant but consumed carrot juice while breastfeeding; and a third group of women didn’t drink any carrot juice but stuck with water during pregnancy and nursing.
About four weeks after the mothers began adding cereal to their infants’ diets — and before the babies had ever been fed any food or juice containing the flavor of carrots — the infants were fed cereal prepared with water during one feeding session. Then, at their next feeding, the babies were fed cereal flavored with carrot juice. Researchers studied videos of the babies eating, and the moms also rated how their infants seem to like both versions of cereal.
The results showed the babies who had been exposed to the flavor of carrots either through amniotic fluid or breast milk behaved differently — and more positively — toward eating the carrot flavored cereal, compared to the infants whose moms had not consumed carrot juice during pregnancy or while nursing.
Another study by the same research group looked at whether it took several months of nursing moms drinking a mixture of beet, celery, and carrot juices to influence their babies’ taste preferences.
The findings showed it only took a month of nursing by mothers regularly drinking the veggie juice for their breastfed infants to prefer carrot flavored cereal over the plain kind. (But when the babies were fed cereal containing the flavor of broccoli, a taste they had not experienced through their mothers’ breast milk, the infants were less than enthusiastic.)
The study had a bonus finding, too: The vegetable juice drinking moms who participated in the study ended up liking the taste of the healthy drink. “Early life may be an optimum time for both infants and their mothers to learn to like the taste of healthy foods,” the researchers concluded.
For moms who can’t breastfeed or parents of older kids who are picky eaters, don’t despair. You can help your children eat healthy diets — but it takes persistence.
There’s no doubt making sure your youngsters opt for nutritious foods can be a struggle, according to Sarah Clark, associate research scientist in the University of Michigan department of Pediatrics. In fact, a University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health queried 1,767 parents with at least one child between the ages of 4 and 18 and found about a fourth of parents said their children’s food choices are only somewhat or not healthy at all.
However, if you continually offer nutritious meals and snacks instead of giving in to the quick fixes your kids’ insist upon, like fast food, over time you can change eating patterns.
“It can be easy to slip into more convenient habits that seem less stressful and less expensive. But if occasional fast food or junk food becomes the norm, it will be even more difficult to promote healthy habits for kids as they grow up,” said Clark, co-director of the poll.
April 07, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN