Taste Test: Priming Your Baby's Healthy Habits

Taste Test: Priming Your Baby's Healthy Habits

It’s a classic conundrum for parents — how and when do you introduce solids to your baby?  Like most things, it’s more complicated than it seems. Results from a series of studies published last week indicate that infant feeding habits continue much longer than previously understood.

In a set of 11 studies funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration (among others) and published this month in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers looked at the intakes of approximately 1,500 6-year-olds and compared their current eating patterns to a study six years prior that followed the same group of children from birth to age one.  The current studies indicate that taste preferences and diet quality established within the first 12 months of life may set a longer lasting imprint than previously believed.  Specific results indicated that when infants had a decreased consumption of fruits and vegetables in infancy, they also consumed fewer fruits and vegetables at age 6.

Here’s the thing that all parents learn pretty quickly: Infants are born to be neophobic [afraid of new things]. They also have more taste buds than adults, so you can understand how introducing something like green beans or kale can result in a squished-up face (which can be cute) or a green mess all over your floor (not quite as cute)!  Take heart--this doesn’t mean that baby doesn’t like it.  It takes repeated exposures (often up to 10-15 tastings) before baby becomes accustomed to a new taste, flavor and texture.

So, how does this relate to the introduction of solids? We know we can help start healthy lifetime habits for your baby by establishing a healthy diet in the first 12 months that includes fruits, vegetables, and proteins, whole grains, dairy, nut/seed butter (all in the appropriate form--remember that anything small and round or very thick and creamy is a choking hazard until the age of 3). The newest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics states that solids should be introduced around 6 months of age or when baby is developmentally ready.

These signs of developmental readiness to begin solid foods include:

  • Baby can sit up well without support.
  • Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (meaning, baby does not automatically push solids out of his mouth with his tongue).
  • Baby is developing a pincer grasp, where he picks up food or other objects between thumb and forefinger. (Pincer grasp develops after the palmar grasp in which a baby grasps objects with his whole palm.)
  • Baby is excited to participate in mealtime and may try to grab food and put it in his mouth.

Now we know that it’s not only important when you start introducing solids, but more so what you introduce!  To help prime your baby’s taste buds, try starting with organic Fall produce — mashed avocado (a great source of monounsaturated fat), sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin, and broccoli, and fruits including pears, apples, and bananas.

Healthy Eating Habits

Your baby’s iron stores also start to decrease at this stage, so it’s a great time to introduce iron rich foods. The iron in beans, poultry, and meat is actually more bioavailable (more easily absorbed by your body) than the iron in baby cereal, plus it contains necessary vitamins and minerals like zinc and B12.

If you need easy ideas for tickling their taste buds, check out our previous post with great recipes for simple but adventurous eating.  Remember: even if your baby spits a new food out or makes a funny face, it’s just a learning experience! This study reminds us that making the effort now will pay off for years when it comes to healthier, happier eating. So, get your high chairs — and your bibs or mops — ready: It’s feeding time!

-Nicole Meadow, MPN, RD, CSP, CLC

References:  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/134/Supplement_1/S1.full

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