Mix It Up! Why A Varied Diet Is So Important In The First Few Years Alice Fotheringham 4 October, 2018 Baby, Expert, Parenting Why Should You Feed Your Baby A Variety Of Foods From An Early Age? Many of our lifelong eating behaviours develop during the first years of our life; it is through actual experiences with food and watching the eating behaviours of others that we learn what we want, and how much we want to eat. Weaning Weaning is very much about introducing your baby to a wide variety of tastes and textures in the first few months. They are still getting most of their nutrients from their breast or formula milk in the first year, so it is less important to worry about quantity or specific nutrients at this stage, and more about the variety of different foods. A lot of learning about food happens during the transition from milk to solid foods. These early experiences are influenced by genetics as well as our unlearned preferences for sweet and salty tastes, and initially rejecting sour or bitter flavours. Familiarity However, the area where parents can have the most influence on their children’s feeding habits, can be seen in the research behind how children choose what they like and dislike based on how familiar a food is. There is a direct link between exposure to a food, the frequency of which you offer a food and a child’s food preferences. Often parents will only offer a food two or three times before deciding the child didn’t like it. Repeated exposure in the first few years is important, as it can take up to 12 times for a new food to be accepted! Read more: Why Introducing Allergenic Foods At 6 Months Could Prevent Allergies Fussiness Around the third year of life, many children go through a stage of fussiness, also known as neophobia, or fear of new foods. Often previously liked foods are now refused and introducing new foods becomes difficult. This is very common, and is often just a stage, but can become more entrenched if new foods are no longer given, instead the familiar foods you know are going to be eaten are offered. It is important at this stage to continue offering new foods and try not to fall back on the failsafe foods you know will be eaten, as this may prolong this stage of picky eating. Top Tips For Getting Variety Into Your Little One’s Diet Baby Start by offering more bitter green leafs early on in their weaning journey to give them a taste for more bitter foods from the get go. Introduce stronger flavours such as herbs, spices and garlic with food early on. You just need to add a small amount, a pinch to give them the flavour. Try roasting vegetables such as cauliflower florets, beetroot wedges or courgette, or sautéing in a little butter or oil and garlic for try roasting vegetables such as cauliflower florets, beetroot wedges or courgette, or sautéing in a little butter or oil and garlic for a more flavourful version of everyday vegetables. Use stews, casseroles and bakes as a way to introduce different pulses, herbs and vegetables. Toddler Offer a mini bowl of salad or soup as a starter with each meal. Putting something in a small serving can make it more appealing and less intimidating than if its served on a main plate. Get them to mix their own salad dressing to make it more interactive. Offer vegetables & fruit with a dip. Cooked and raw vegetable sticks (mange tout, asparagus, carrot, cucumber, pepper, celery etc.) are a lot more fun to eat with your hands and with a dip! Read next: Can Pregnancy And Breastfeeding Define Your Child’s Food Preferences? How to Look After Your Kid’s Oral Health to Give Them The Best Start in Life References used in this article Savage, J, Fisher J, Birch L (2007) Parental influence on eating behaviour: conception to adolescence.” The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 35: 22-34. Cooke L (2007) The importance of exposure for healthy eating in childhood: a review. Journal of human nutrition and dietetics, 20:294-301. Birch L & Marlin D (1982) I don’t like it; I never tried it: effects of exposure on two-year-old children’s food preferences. Appetite, 31:353-60. Carruth B, Ziegler P, Gordon A, Barr S (2004) Prevalence of picky eaters amongst infants and toddlers and their caregivers’ decisions about offering a new food. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 104: 57-S64. Cashdan (1994) A sensitive period for learning about food. Human Nature Int Bios,5: 279-291. Nicklaus S (2009) Development of food variety in children. Appetite. 28: 253-5.