Don’t Want Your Child To Be A Picky Eater? Eat A Varied Diet, Research Says

Don’t Want Your Child To Be A Picky Eater? Eat A Varied Diet, Research Says

Fussy kids with picky eating habits.

Most of us experience this at some stage during our parenting life.

We all want our kids to get the nutrition they need, but we certainly don’t want to deal with the whining and pushback.

What if parents could solve the picky eating problem, even before their baby begins solids?

Research has shown a mother can reduce her child’s fussing over different foods by making certain choices about own diet during her pregnancy, and by breastfeeding her baby.

Don’t Want Your Child To Be A Picky Eater? Eat A Varied Diet, Research Says

As someone who consumes food from a variety of cultures, and especially strongly flavoured foods, I can honestly say my children have become very well-rounded eaters.

Don’t get me wrong. In the preschool years it seems almost every meal comes with quite a bit of fussing, but for the most part my children eat a variety of foods quite willingly.

In fact, the other day I was out to lunch and my one-year-old began eating guacamole with jalapeño, and then picked the raw onion off my taco to eat.

People are often surprised by my kids’ palates but with a combination of a varied diet during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and opting to go down the baby-led weaning route for solids, encouraging them to eat a varied diet hasn’t been overly troublesome (except during that pesky preschool phase).

How Does A Mother’s Diet During Pregnancy Affect A Baby’s Taste Preferences?

According to new research published in the journal Obesity Review, the flavours a mother consumes reach her baby in the womb.

Researchers from the University of Buffalo’s Department of Pediatrics’ Behavioral Medicine division looked at research results taken from more than 40 peer-reviewed studies. They wanted to learn more about how toddlers and young children develop taste preferences, and what, if anything, helps prevent or manage picky eating.

Researchers found many flavours consumed by expectant mothers were present in their amniotic fluid.

The study’s authors concluded: “Because taste and smell are already functional during fetal life, and because the fetus regularly swallows amniotic fluid, the first experiences with flavor occur prior to birth”.

“Exposure to these ‘transmittable’ flavors influences the acceptance of these flavors by the infant postnatally”, they said.

In fact, women who consumed carrot juice for three consecutive weeks during the third trimester had infants who were more likely to have a positive response when offered carrot flavoured cereal, compared with plain cereal.

These findings show that flavour exposure during pregnancy can influence an infant’s taste preferences.

Similar research was published in 2007 in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics.

Be sure to read 5 Yummy, Healthy Foods Every Pregnant Woman Needs To Eat to learn about what you should incorporate into your diet.

How Does Breastfeeding Affect A Baby’s Taste Preferences?

It’s important to note sharing the benefits of breastfeeding is an important public health issue. It’s also important for parents to have access to adequate evidence-based information to make informed decisions about feeding their infants.

There is no mother shaming or formula bashing in sharing information. As mothers, we all make the best decisions we can with the information and support we have available at the time, and in some situations that means formula.

Although it can be an emotionally charged topic, it is vital for the population as a whole to encourage breastfeeding. Breast milk is the biologically normal food for human infants. It’s no surprise it can have a positive influence on a child’s eating habits for years to come.

The taste of formula doesn’t change from feed to feed, or even from month to month. When infants are exclusively formula fed, it means they could experience just one flavour from birth until solids are introduced when they are six months old.

The taste of breast milk can change with every feed. If a breastfeeding mother has a varied diet, her infant will be constantly exposed to a variety of flavours.

Given that children naturally tend to reject things that are new, the earlier they’re exposed to a variety of flavours, the more likely they are to accept a varied diet.

Why Is A Varied Diet Important?

A healthy and varied diet during pregnancy offers a number of benefits for a baby, as does breastfeeding.

Aloysa Hourigan, spokeswoman for Nutrition Australia, says, “The more nutrients a child receives in utero and through breastfeeding the more likely the child will thrive”.

Nutrition is important for a growing baby’s entire system, including the developing brain. But beyond that, this research shows the impact a mother’s diet can have on her child’s eating habits.

Why are children’s eating habits so important?

A healthy, varied, whole foods diet is the best way to ensure growing children have all the nutrition they need. Extreme picky eating can interfere with their growth and development.

Despite the importance of a varied diet, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian children average just 1.8 servings of vegetables per day. It’s recommended children consume 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruit per day.

Consuming a healthy and varied diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding can help your children develop a varied palate. Your diet during pregnancy can also affect their short and long term health, and even the health of your grandchildren.

The research doesn’t specify baby-led weaning as a means of encouraging a varied diet. It does, however, recommend offering a variety of healthy foods. Baby-led weaning is a great way to do that.

Baby-led weaning can be a particularly good option. Commercial baby and toddler foods have recently come under fire for false advertising and for containing more unhealthy ingredients than traditional food.

My Child Is A Picky Eater. What Can I do?

The researchers tried persistently and repeatedly offering rejected foods to toddlers. They found this eventually proved successful in getting them to accept the new flavours.

They warned against bribing children with treats. This method often backfires and doesn’t actually encourage a healthy and varied diet.

You might have eaten well during pregnancy, and breastfed exclusively. You also offered your child a variety of foods when introducing solids. Even so, your child is still fussy and picky about foods.

What can you do?

Based on this recent study, it’s important that you continue to offer healthy foods, even if your child rejects them. Limit treats, and certainly avoid bribing your child with treats.

You might also consider simply not having unhealthy foods available.

Most toddlers want to taste anything you’re eating. My one-year-old proved that, by attacking the taco that I wasn’t exactly intending to share.

So serve healthy whole foods and show that you enjoy them.

The best way to encourage your child to eat a varied diet is to lead by example.

For more tips on picky eating, be sure to read Toddler Meal Times A Stress? 11 Tips For Fussy Eaters.

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Maria Pyanov CPD, CCE CONTRIBUTOR

Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.


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