Ella’s Kitchen are on a mission to get the government to pay more attention on early years nutrition. They delivered giant building blocks made entirely of veggies to the Department of Health to raise awareness of the importance of veg during weaning. Ella’s Kitchen’s expert Claire Baseley explains to us why veggies are so important during the weaning process.
Babies are born with few taste preferences, but they do have a naturally sweet tooth. Breastmilk is sweet and so this natural preference is beneficial for the first months of life, where breastmilk (or infant formula) is the sole source of nutrition. However, once weaning starts, sweet foods like fruits are more readily accepted compared with vegetables, particularly those with a more bitter taste like broccoli or cauliflower. These vegetables are often rejected at first, or met with a surprised or even disgusted expression, leading parents and carers to believe that the baby doesn’t like what they’re eating. Often, if it’s not accepted within a few tries, the vegetable isn’t given again and is written off as a disliked food.
However, during weaning, babies are really receptive to new tastes and will often accept a new food readily, with a little patience and perseverance. Even a vegetable as bitter as broccoli or as unfamiliar as artichoke can be accepted if it’s offered up to eight times, and sometimes on even fewer occasions.
Starting weaning with a variety of single vegetables is a simple way to help babies learn to accept them, with this preference potentially tracking into childhood and beyond. In one study*, babies who were given a variety of different vegetable tastes, which were offered over 18 days, ate more vegetables not just in the immediate period following the trial, but also at age 12 months, compared with those who were given only fruits.
This suggests that offering a variety of vegetables for the first two to three weeks of weaning influences food preferences for at least six months, if not longer. Some data** suggests offering a wide range of vegetables and fruits at age six months increases their intake at seven years!
Another study*** advised British, Portuguese and Greek parents to offer a variety of five different vegetables, with a new one each day, repeated for 15 days, compared with a control group who were provided with country specific ‘usual care’ advice. Interestingly, British parents reported that their babies ate more of a new, unfamiliar vegetable (artichoke), following the 15 days of vegetable consumption and also seemed to have a higher liking of this vegetable compared with the control group. This was not the case in Portugal or in Greece, where vegetables are commonly used as first foods already.
Top tips to help little ones plant a love for veg
- Offering a variety of single veg tastes before introducing fruit in the first stage of weaning can help to increase liking for and amount consumed of vegetables for potentially many years
- Offer a new veg taste each day
- Repeatedly offering the same taste on separate occasions can encourage acceptance of an initially disliked food fairly quickly (although in some babies it may take up to eight tries)
- Don’t worry if your little one pulls a surprised or even disgusted face when they first experience a new food – this doesn’t mean they don’t like it; it just means it’s really new and might take some getting used to!
- Don’t forget to introduce iron-rich foods such as dark green vegetables, pulses and meat in the first stage of weaning too as little ones’ stores of iron are starting to run low by the age of six months.
Using a vegetables-first, vegetables frequently and vegetables in variety approach to weaning can help your little one learn to like vegetables and even boost their consumption for years to come!
Claire Baseley, Infant Nutritionist Ella’s Kitchen
* Barends C, de Vries JH, Mojet J, de Graaf C. Effects of starting weaning exclusively with vegetables on vegetable intake at the age of 12 and 23”‰months. Appetite Oct 2014; 81: 193-199.
** Helen Coulthard, Gillian Harris and Pauline Emmett. Long-term consequences of early fruit and vegetable feeding practices in the United Kingdom. Public Health Nutrition, December 2010; 13(12): 2044-2051.
*** Alison Fildes, Carla Lopes, Pedro Moreira, Lucy J Cooke. An exploratory trial of parental advice for increasing vegetable acceptance in infancy. British Journal of Nutrition June 2015; 114(2):1-9.
Visit Ella’s Kitchen for more information and show your support for the campaign by tweeting #VegForVictory