WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Introducing infants to vegetables in milk and then cereal during complementary feeding may help children accept and enjoy vegetables into childhood.
WHAT WE KNOW
Parents struggle to help their children enjoy vegetables. The strong bitter, sour or tart flavors of veggies are often masked by other flavors, such as butters and cheeses, to get children to eat their veggies. Dinnertime can stray from a pleasant family interaction to a warzone of wills.
If you’re an expectant parent or new mother, or if you know young parents who are preparing for a baby, there is hope! What can be done during complementary feeding — the transition phase from exclusive breastfeeding to the introduction of family foods that typically occurs from 6-24 months — can be very helpful in increasing likeability of vegetables. In some countries, mothers introduce vegetables to their children by adding vegetable cooking water or vegetable purée to their infant’s milk as a means for developing their child’s taste for vegetables. This method comes into question simply because children are not experiencing the vegetables in their own state, but rather, paired with other foods. Do children learn to truly enjoy vegetables when paired with other foods, leading to higher intake throughout childhood, or does this type of feeding lead to acceptance based on combination with well-liked, familiar flavors?
WHAT RESEARCH SHOWS
Researchers set out to explore that question through an experiment that involved two groups of mothers and their infants over the course of 35 days.* In the first group (intervention group), babies received 12 daily exposures to vegetable purée added to milk for days 1-12, followed by 12 daily exposures of vegetable purée added to baby rice for days 13-24. In the second group (control group), mothers were instructed to only feed their babies plain milk and cereal for days 1-24. Finally, both groups fed their babies vegetable purée during the remaining 9 days. Throughout the entire study, mothers did not feed their infants anything other than what they were instructed to feed their babies by the researchers.
Not surprisingly, the babies in the intervention group who ate vegetables in milk, then cereal, and then alone as purée, consumed more vegetables than the babies who were given plain milk, plain cereal, and then fed the vegetable purée. Babies developed a liking for the taste of vegetables because it was introduced subtly and they were able to grow accustomed to the bitter flavor of the vegetables, such as broccoli, green beans, and spinach, gradually. The intervention group babies not only ate more vegetable purée, but they ate it more quickly as well.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This all makes sense from a biological standpoint. When mothers nurse naturally, their babies experience the flavors of the mother’s diet through her breast milk. This process, called a “flavor bridge,” exposes the baby to the flavors of the mother’s diet before starting the complementary feeding process, increasing the compliance and acceptance of new foods.
If you intend to raise veggie-loving kiddos, start young, science suggests. This research should not dishearten parents who feel they are already losing the vegetable battle with their children. The implications of this study demonstrate that vegetables can be paired with foods and gradually accepted and enjoyed on their own. Even if your child puts up a fight now, subtly introducing vegetables into their diets will gradually help your child enjoy vegetables.
Video Center: Selection. Storage. Preparation.
How Many Cups Do You Need?
Key Nutrients in Fruits & Vegetables
Fruit & Veggie Database