If you weren’t concerned about your health and could make any food choices that you wanted to, would you eat dessert first? Many people would. But they don’t because they understand that their body needs other nutrients to function optimally.
Like the team at Tastyganics, most parents want their kids to eat their vegetables for the same reason. But it’s hard to find baby foods that are made of leafy greens or other nutritious veggies without being blended with sweeter vegetables or fruit. That might make you wonder whether babies hate vegetables. If that’s the case, how can you get infants to enjoy eating a wide variety of produce so that they get the vitamins and minerals that they need to thrive?
Why Infants Love Sweets
Food preferences are initiated before babies are born. Infants’ taste buds develop when the mother is in the second trimester of pregnancy. Even though fetuses get their nutrients from the placenta, they will taste some of the flavors from the foods that you eat through the amniotic fluid.
Babies swallow approximately 1 liter of amniotic fluid a day while they’re in the womb. That fluid can be marked with strong flavors, like garlic or fish, after the mother eats a meal.
Research shows that infants are predisposed to preferring sweet tastes. They swallow more amniotic fluid when it’s a little sugary than when it’s tart or sour.
This may help them to enjoy the taste of breast milk, which is sweeter than you might expect. Like amniotic fluid, breast milk may contain other flavors from the mother’s diet. Exposure to some of these essences in utero can prevent babies from turning away from the breast after their moms have eaten a particularly pungent meal.
Baby formula also contains sweeteners. Sweet ingredients make the product taste more like breast milk. While newborns can detect bitter and sour flavors, they prefer sweet ones. They may even suckle more intensely on a nipple that’s providing them with sweet breast milk than one that gives them a neutral flavor.
It makes sense that infants love sweets. They do a lot of developing in their early years, and they need to fuel up for all of that growth. The body prefers to use glucose, a type of sugar, as fuel. It seems that babies know what they need. They may expend too much energy digesting vegetables, which aren’t usually rich in sugars or carbohydrates.
Plus, avoiding bitter foods may have helped humans survive. Bitterness often signals that a food is poisonous. We have to train ourselves to adapt to this taste.
Do Babies Hate Vegetables?
Taste preferences are partly genetic. But this is a case of nature vs. nurture.
Many babies will show preference for flavors that they experienced in the womb. Therefore, a mother who eats a variety of foods may have a baby who is less finicky about eating than someone who eats bland foods.
Infants also mimic everything they see. If your spouse wrinkles his nose when he eats broccoli, your baby might pick up on those cues. Furthermore, many parents have neutral or negative reactions to baby food that doesn’t smell particularly pleasant. If you have an adverse reaction while you’re feeding your baby, you might easily convince the child that vegetables aren’t the best thing ever.
Tastes can change over time. About one quarter of the population is born with high sensitivities to bitter and strongly flavored foods. These people are called supertasters. But their sensitivity usually lessens with age.
This is true even if you’re not a supertaster. That’s why you enjoy black coffee now even though you thought it was disgusting the first time that you tasted it.
Can Babies Learn to Love Vegetables?
If infants aren’t predisposed to liking vegetables, how can you get them to eat their greens? It’s surprising how few baby foods contain produce with bitter flavors. Kids get used to eating what they’re used to eating. Therefore, it’s important to introduce a wide variety of foods at an early age.
This can be frustrating if your child refuses to eat them, though. You don’t want to turn meal times into a hostile experience. If your little one gags every time they eat pureed kale, you might set them up to cry and whine every time you put them in the high chair.
When you begin offering your little one solids, think of meals as an experiment. You’re simply introducing your baby to different flavors. Your infant might be more interested in playing with the food than putting it in their mouth. That’s ok. Playing is fun, and it can open children up to the idea that green, orange or red foods are also enjoyable.
Eventually, babies put their fingers in their mouth and taste what they’ve been mashing up on the tray of their high chair. If you keep giving them a wide range of flavors, they’ll get used to what they’re tasting.
Go beyond the baby food jar to expose your infant to more vegetables, such as zucchini, kale or cauliflower. Almost any type of produce can be cooked and pureed in a blender or food processor.
Don’t be afraid to add other flavors to season the food. If you don’t particularly enjoy boiled vegetables, why do you expect that your infant would? Keep in mind that you should only introduce one new food item a day when your child starts eating solids.
But don’t be afraid to use garlic, onions or other tasty combinations to enhance the flavor of your young child’s food. In some cultures, babies even learn to love spicy tastes when they’re young.
As you expose your child to more variety, they’ll get used to eating vegetables and other foods. Try to avoid making a separate dinner for your little one. Older infants and toddlers can eat the same home-cooked meals that you do. Just make sure to chop it into pieces that are small enough for them to eat.