A child's “flavor window” generally lasts from 4-18 months, and this is when a child will most likely accept new foods. Exposing them repeatedly to different flavors, textures, and foods during this time helps to establish flavor preferences.
By: Mia Rigden, MS, CNS
The first 1000 days of a person’s life are critical for developing healthy eating habits that will continue well into adulthood. During this time, children are introduced to new flavors and learn from their parents how, what, when, and how much to eat.
Children, however, are notoriously picky eaters, and it can often be a struggle for parents to get their kids to try new foods. Turns out, it’s biological. Children are born with a predisposition for sweet and salty foods, and an aversion to bitter and sour foods, characteristic of many vegetables. This is an outdated evolutionary advantage, stemming from a time when food was lacking. In today’s world, many children have access to an abundance of sweet and processed foods, which can lead to dependencies and health issues later in life.
Flavor training starts with prenatal nutrition and continues with breastfeeding. When the mother eats a variety of healthy foods and diverse flavors, the baby starts to get familiar with them. This continues when feeding begins a few months after birth. The “flavor window” generally lasts from 4-18 months, and is when a child will most likely accept new foods. Exposing them repeatedly to different flavors, textures, and foods during this time helps to establish flavor preferences.
Easier said than done though, right? Babies will eat just about anything, but toddlers are a whole other story. Most parents can relate to the frustration of their child not wanting to eat what’s on their plate or liking a food one day and not the next. Don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t want to eat vegetables or develops strong preferences for particular foods, like sweets. It’s important to be persistent but not pushy. Keep offering these foods, but don’t force it. You might be surprised that one day they will eat it. And even if they never eat that food again, at least they’ve been exposed to the flavor.
Children model the behavior of their parents. If you don’t eat vegetables, they won’t either. Sitting down for family dinners is an excellent way to demonstrate healthy eating habits. And when dining out, try to share dishes instead of ordering off the kid's menu, which is generally bland and lacking in nutritional value and flavor.
Getting your child involved in the cooking process is another way to encourage them to try new foods. Let them press the button on your Beast blender to make nutrient-dense smoothies, sauces, and more. Talk to them about the ingredients you’re using and why they are good for them. Highlight the different colors of fruits and vegetables to get them more excited about them, and take them to the store or farmers market so they understand where food comes from. If you have the space, try to grow something, even if it’s just fresh herbs, so they can make the connection between the soil and their plate.
It’s okay to hide vegetables, like the cauliflower in their Peanut Butter & Jelly smoothie, to ensure they’re getting the nutrition they need, but make sure they also see the cauliflower. Maybe let them put it in the blender, or serve it in another way for dinner.