Children's Food Preferences & Parenting Practices

Baby Eating Bread, Developing Food Preferences, and Diet Choices

Early Flavor Exposure: Child Taste Preferences

It’s amazing to see little children eating sushi, or enjoying olives and a piece of blue cheese. Many parents ask themselves, why is it that my children only accept foods like Mac N’ Cheese and other children are fine eating raw fish? Several studies have been interested in looking at food acceptance and how it is influenced by early flavor exposure. Last May (2011), Appetite published a review article on this matter.

In this article, they begin by explaining that we create our pattern of food preferences by combining innate taste preferences and experiences, either good or bad, with flavors. In very general terms, the more familiar a food is, the more it is liked. Further, the article explains how regular and repeated exposure to a particular food is an effective way to increase the liking and consumption of that particular food in children from infancy to school age. That begs the question, when can we begin exposing our children to different flavors?

Flavor Exposure In Utero

According to this article, at least three experimental demonstrations of the transmission of odorous compounds from a mother’s diet to her amniotic fluid, suggest that newborns can show behaviors of attraction to familiar odors and flavors. In one of these studies, they compared infants whose mothers did or did not consume foods containing garlic during the last term of pregnancy. They observed that infants from garlic-consuming mothers were more prone to orient their heads towards cottons swabs containing garlic than those infants of non-garlic-consuming mothers. This suggests that exposure to and experience with certain flavors can begin even before birth and patterns of food preferences can begin to emerge early on.

Flavor Exposure During Milk Feeding: Breast-feeding vs. Formula-feeding

Researchers also mention studies that sustain the aforementioned idea and go further by establishing that flavor exposure during milk feeding could influence food acceptance at the weaning age. This article describes several studies that have compared food acceptance in children who were breastfed in comparison to those who were formula-fed. Results seem to suggest that breastfed children show a greater acceptance to a wider variety of flavors. The reason for these differences in taste acceptance has been suggested to result from the larger variety of flavors of the maternal diet transmitted through breast milk, as opposed to the uniform flavor of formula.

This review article explains the potential we have to introduce our children to a wide variety of flavors at early stages of development. They present us with evidence that both the amniotic fluid and breast milk are important vessels of flavor exposure and that their characteristics might influence lifelong food preferences.

Could a child’s preference for a narrow range of flavors increase the probability of nutritional deficiencies or obesity?

Reference

Cooke, L. & Fildes, A. (2011). The impact of flavour exposure in utero and during milk feeding on food acceptance and beyond. Appetite, 57, 808-811.