As any parent of young children knows, feeding kids is a big job. You want your kids to enjoy food, but you also want them to eat the right things so they grow up to be healthy.
While the early years have their challenges, they also represent a remarkable time of growth when habits form. Evidence suggests that there is a unique window of opportunity between four and seven months of age when parents can cultivate taste preferences and teach young children to love vegetables.
First foods matter
Vegetables are critical to overall health, but infants and toddlers just don’t eat enough of them. In fact, only 10 percent of young kids consume the daily recommended amount. While children are born with an innate preference for sweet flavors, their palates can be shaped by early dietary experiences. Starting at age two, children become more selective — and downright stubborn — about what they eat, so these first foods truly matter.
It takes patience and persistence when it comes to introducing children to the bitter flavors of veggies. In fact, it can take 10 or more tastes for a child to accept a new vegetable. That can feel like a lot when your toddler scrunches up their face or spits spinach on the wall. But stay with it.
Veggie dos and don’ts
Parents and baby food makers have been known to hide vegetables in other foods like fruit purees. But this only accelerates and reinforces a child’s inherent preference for sweet. It also distorts the true flavor of a naked vegetable. Don’t do it!
One thing you should do is introduce a variety veggies. Each vegetable provides different nutrients, each of which contribute to good health. For example, the bright orange color of a sweet potato or carrot provides beta-carotene while the purple color of a turnip provides vitamins A, C, and K. Introduce as many different colors and textures of vegetables as you can.
For any of this to stick, parents and caregivers must model the behavior they hope to see. So include them in your own meals. And have veggies as visible snacks on the counter.
Together, we can raise a generation of veggie lovers who grow up to be healthy adults.