Taste preferences and fussy eaters: how you can help your kids

Taste preferences and fussy eaters: how you can help your kids

Taste preferences and fussy eaters: how you can help your kids

The early years of a child’s life are most crucial in establishing healthy eating patterns that will be long lasting. We know that what we eat influences our mood, behaviour and ability to learn. Getting good quality food into our kids as early as possible is an excellent way to ensure the most benefit. If we can train our kid’s tastebuds to enjoy a wide range of natural flavours then we can avoid large consumption of processed foods. Reducing processed foods and flavours reduce health issues later in life. Healthy food is also the major supporter of a child’s immune system in the first two years of life. With the right foods early in life a child will be more resilient to illness, infections and allergies.

When do taste preferences begin?

A child’s food preferences begin in the womb. Research shows that baby’s are more accepting of flavours they have encountered during gestation, especially during the last trimester. Research has shown breastfeeding mothers with a large range of nutrients are more likely to have babies who are more accepting of a wider range of food. Another benefit of a mother with a wide variety of foods is she will be replenishing many of the nutrients she lost during the pregnancy; so it is a win win. It’s important to know that not all the responsibility lies with the mum and her diet. Taste preference can also be hereditary. Some babies are just born with more tastebuds than others, making them more sensitive to sour or bitter foods.

What can you do to train tastebuds?

  • Make dietary changes when kids are young, after the age of two it will become more challenging. While it may be more challenging, it will not be impossible. Kids learn through play, so make mealtimes enjoyable and a fun experience . This could include sharing the meal as a family, making fun faces out of vegetable sticks or making a meal that is eaten with your hands.
  • Repetition is key; it can take young children 6-16 experiences with a flavour before they accept it. If your child doesn’t like a food at first then put the leftovers in an ice cube tray and you can pop one out at a time for them to try again until they accept it. This saves you always having to make something new and means they will have multiple exposures to a flavour
  • If your children are much older then having a conversation with them about the importance of healthy food and how it can improve their life. You can also get your kids in the kitchen with you and involve them in the process of planning and cooking the family meal. Having kids in the kitchen is a great way for them to see what goes into the meal

Reasons for fussy eating

There can be many reasons for fussy eaters and it can be worthwhile exploring these if you suspect your child may suffer from one. Common reasons for fussy eating include digestive issues such as reflux or constipation. These can make the process of eating a very uncomfortable experience. Another can be oral motor delays or low muscle tone, both of which can be addressed with the correct medical supervision. Nutritional deficiencies can also cause fussy eating.

Many kids are deficient in zinc, which can cause homemade food to taste bland. Others can be because kids have been exposed to sugary or processed foods too early. The emotions that parents display around food can also impact a child’s relationship with it. If a parent appears very stressed around meal times then a child will pick up on that. Keeping calm and not getting frustrated or angry with your child when they don’t want to eat something will help keep meal times an enjoyable experience for all involved.