Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Picky Eaters are Created

No adult ever LIKED coffee, beer, wine or cigarettes the first time they tried them, and probably not the second time, either. Even diet drinks, artificial sweeteners, and milk with a higher or lower fat content take time to become accustomed to for adults. 

7 months
crackers, apricots, asparagus, chicken
If indigenous children can learn to like grubs, and Norwegian children can learn to like lutefisk, Asian children can learn to like cooked fish heads, and most children of the world to eating insects, then there is NOTHING in the average western diet that children can not learn to like unless there is a built-in physical aversion, such as with cilantro, or a sensory issue with certain textures.

Children who have been abandoned in some manner have been found to eat even the sheetrock off the walls if hungry enough. Children are biologically incapable of starving themselves, unless there is some physiological or psychological issue involved. When provided with a variety of nutritious foods, they will choose to eat if they are hungry. 

Palates are created, not born, and it takes an average of 10-12 experiences with many foods for the brain to recognize them as palatable. We do a great disservice to our children when we don't allow them the opportunity to push beyond an initial dislike. Research shows that any food a child experiences a minimum of 10-12 times before the age of two, even if they don't like it, they can LEARN to like it later in life

So, the variety of food they experience between 6 months 
and 2 years is the most important of their lifetime

Food is the only complete sensory experience, and every food introduction increases brain cells as they process the new taste, smell, texture, shape and sound the food makes while eating it. The children in my care eat Hungarian, Cajun, Chinese, Thai, etc. by the age of one. They may not like something for months, but then there comes that day that the switch flips and they like it from that point on. Exposure. Two bites of everything. If you absolutely can't get them do a 2-bite rule, then encourage just a lick. It will at least get the chemical compounds of the food processed into the brain for later reference.

"You don't need to like it, but you need to try it."

"You don't have to eat it, you can spit it out, just TRY IT!"

Many adults do not eat vegetables [my dad!], or have extremely limited diets due to the experiences of their childhood. Children of these adults often lack even the opportunity to try foods that THEY may like. As parents, we have to always keep the future in mind and our children's benefit at the core of our decisions regarding their care. That includes not limiting our children's diets due to our own preferences or making derogatory comments about foods they should be learning to enjoy.

Babies will USUALLY gag on or refuse new foods. It is as much the new texture and smell, than the flavor, that they are reacting to, but many parents take this as a sign of dislike and do not push their infant to continue to try the food. 

This is a mistake. 

No one wants a child who will only eat mac & cheese, and no adult can subsist healthily on processed and fast food. Food is either an advantage or disadvantage to health. It either heals or harms. It doesn't do both. Helping your children to make healthy dietary choices will effect their health for a lifetime.

Breastfed babies take to solid food much more readily than formula fed babies. Breast milk changes flavor with ever meal the mother eats, so breastfed babies already have an affinity for their mother's diet. Formula babies have had the EXACT same flavor of milk their entire lives, and any deviation from this is going to be dramatic for them and will usually make them take longer to accept new foods.

Here is my infant food introduction list. Parents mark off the item after the 3-day introductory period. Once a  food is introduced, it can be mixed with other introduced foods. The introduction of the spices and herbs are just as important as the introduction of the food items. 

Infants and children prefer food to be served at room temperature.


11 months
Chili for lunch, talk about a sensory experience!
  • Start early! Most of my infants' pediatricians have had them begin solids at 4 months. This is great, since it takes a while for the tongue muscle to develop and for them to "get" the concept and mechanics of eating down. After starting with rice cereal, we usually move to avacado [best brain food for baby!] and then sweet potatoes [super food]. As of 6 months I like to begin adding a new food, herb or spice every 3 days. By 9 months the infants in my care are usually eating table food. 
  • Infants want to eat what everyone else is eating. They can smell it. They can see it. They KNOW the difference. Use a chopper, food processor, or bullet to whip up whatever is on the table to the correct consistency for your infant. Let them sit at the table with everyone else and enjoy the social aspect of dining together.
  • Let them PLAY WITH THEIR FOOD! Especially in that 6 -18 month window. Throw it, smear it, mash it, etc. Food is the only 5-senses experience, and infants are more likely to ingest food they are allowed to self-feed. Playing with food is a HUGE brain development experience
  • Providing a new or disliked food as a first option, will often get a better response than if it is given with a meal with other, more familiar foods. Again, provide it as an appetizer and let the infant explore it.
  • Mixing a small amount of a new or disliked food with a liked one, and gradually increasing the ratio as the child will accept the mixture, will get the brain to begin recognizing and accepting the individual food.
  • Introduce herbs and spices early. They make the flavors of foods so much richer and more exciting.
The tongue is the last muscle to develop in the human body. By giving infants a variety of foods with a variety of textures, the tongue muscle will work harder. This assists greatly with a child's physical ability to speak early and distinctly. Communication is the number one cause of tantrums, so the earlier they can communicate effectively, the less likely are to have them. 


  • Children are more apt to eat food they help prepare. Provide a new food and discuss recipes with your child which ones s/he would like to try out. Let the child assist in preparation. If they don't like it the first time, try a little bit over the next few days. They may change their mind. My children don't like frozen spinach, but they love watching fresh spinach wilt and will eat it in a dish if they get to watch it magically shrink in the pan
  • Prepare a food in different ways. A child may not like eggs any way but scrambled, or potatoes any way but mashed, but they should be allowed the opportunity to try them every which way to make that determination, not just allowed to settle on the first one they like.

  • Textures are often harder than flavors to get over. A child may not like raw tomatoes, but loves pasta sauce, salsa, etc. This is true for potatoes, celery, olives and many other foods. Often if these foods are minced very fine and added into a dish, then the child will accept them. I have a child who doesn't like chunks of broccoli, but if I mince it with a chopper, then she loves it. 

  • Food introductions are best done when going through a plumping stage.  As children go through their growth cycle, they will plump up, eating everything they can get their hands on, and then often practically stop eating all together as they have a growth spurt. This is normal. 

  • Human beings have an innate love for sweet and salty. Breast milk is sweet. Salt is a life necessity. A natural diet would never have these in excess on a daily basis as we have in industrial societies today. Just because we can eat sugar and salt all day every day, doesn't mean we should. Children have to be taught limits on these substances that they naturally crave. Sugar and salt cravings are either fed or diminished by the foods we provide our children. However, these natural cravings can often help with the acceptance of an un-liked food. Adding a little butter, salt or sugar may help with initial acceptance, and then those substances can gradually be eliminated. 

  • Have taste tests. Make it a game, a fun experience, and encourage your child, and yourself, to experience new foods and textures.  
  • Do not mistake a lack of appetite with a dislike of the food. Children go through growth cycles where they fatten up and then have a growth spurt. When growing, they will often practically stop eating altogether. This is usually accompanied by being a lot more tired and sleeping more. As long as a child is active and alert when awake, and showing no signs of illness, there is no cause for worry or any reason to push a child to eat. As I said, children are instinctively incapable of starving themselves. They will eat if they are hungry, and it is very important that they learn to use and trust their body's clues. Eating when we are not hungry is one of the leading causes of obesity, often taught from our parents' "clean your plate" directives.
  • DO NOT FORCE an older child to try or eat a food. Encourage. Make it an expectation that they will try. Give the child a choice. "If you take one bite of your squash then you can have more peaches." If they do not take a bite, then no more peaches. Stay calm and let the child have the option and ultimate control over their choices. Do not hover, question, cajole, etc. Give them good food, and let them enjoy it.
  • They will not starve. Simply because a child chooses to not partake of a lot of food at a meal does not mean that they will have any lasting damage. It won't hurt for them to miss a meal. If they choose to not eat, then let them go hungry. They will make it up at the next meal. Over the age of 2, they are not entitled to a parent being a short order cook or to be fed outside of meal times or away from the table. They could be tired, not feel well, have eaten a huge meal earlier, or may be going through a growth spurt. Pushing children to eat when they are not hungry or choose not to is a recipe for food issues, obesity and eating disorders.

If it isn't good for them, then don't allow the child the option of eating it. 

Parents control the food that comes in to a child's life and the foods from which their child may choose to eat.

Food can either give us energy and provide the building blocks of life, or make us fatigued and cause our bodies to work hard to combat the negative effects of chemicals, fat, and excess salt and sugar. Parents who would not inject harmful chemicals into their child, are often doing the equivalent by the foods they place on their child's plate. 

Good health and good nutrition are the right of every child. 
Tags: nutrition, food, picky, eating, eater, introduction, infant, child, toddler, parenting, 3-day rule, three, day, rule, solid, weaning, childcare, care, daycare, health, healthy, meal, meals, cooking, children, baby food

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