Eat Your Vegetables
"Eat your vegetables!" is a plea often heard around family dinner tables. Why is it that many young children don't seem to like vegetables? "It turns out that taste preferences are, in fact, developed prenatally," says Jane Kostelc, early childhood specialist at Parents as Teachers National Center. Research conducted by Leann Birch, Ph.D., at Pennsylvania State University shows that unborn babies may detect taste differences as early as the 13th week of pregnancy.
Pregnant women who eat a wide variety of foods expose their children to different tastes, as the flavor of amniotic fluid changes.
Breast milk is another way nursing babies are exposed to a variety of different tastes. Formula flavor is consistent each bottle, but the taste of breast milk changes based on what the nursing mom eats. Eating a wide variety of vegetables gives a nursing baby a sample of what's to come once he gets those teeth.
According to Kostelc, early exposure is an important factor in encouraging children to develop a taste for vegetables. Some nutritionists recommend exposing your child to as many as 200 different foods by the age of 2 years. "The more opportunity your toddler has to experiment with different tastes, the more willing she will be to accept variety," says Kostelc.
Texture Counts, Too
Present your child with a variety of texture in foods. Cooked green beans are crunchy and mashed sweet potatoes are smooth. Part of the reason children reject vegetables, says Kostelc, is that they don't like the feel of them in their mouths.
A child may have to taste a new food 15 to 25 times before he is ready to eat a few bites. Don't worry about counting and don't be concerned with rejection; just keep putting those lima beans on the plate and cheerfully encouraging your child to take a taste.
Smelling and touching foods also count as exposures. Let your curious toddler touch and smoosh his zucchini. Some just may wind up in his mouth!
It Starts With YOU!
You are the most important model for your child's good eating habits. Fill your plate with a variety of nutritious foods, including vegetables. "Let your child see that you enjoy -- or are willing to taste -- vegetables and other nutritious foods," advises Kostelc. "Young children often want a taste of what you are eating. Encourage them to taste the vegetables on your plate. Good nutrition is something you want to share."
SIDEBAR: Minding your peas and carrots: tips for your young child's lifelong veggie-loving
The early childhood experts at Parents as Teachers National Center offer the following tips for getting your young child eating healthy right from the start:
-- Start early to offer steamed vegetables.
-- Introduce your child to at least 200 different foods before age 2.
-- Expect to offer a vegetable 15-25 times before your child tastes it.
-- Let kids smell, touch, and taste veggies.
-- Eat vegetables with your child.