WHY PERSISTENCE IS KEY TO RAISING HEALTHY EATERS
You may have heard the advice that babies sometimes need to taste a food as many as 20 times before they will start to like it. But is this really true? We round up the advice from some of the world’s leading infant nutrition experts on the topic.
“Two key processes are involved in children learning to like certain foods: familiarity and feeling sure that a food is safe,” says Dr Clare Llewellyn, author of the book An Appetite for Life: How to Feed Your Child from the Start. “One of the most powerful ways to get babies and children to like a food is through repeated exposure to it – they need to actually taste it and become familiar with its texture. Exposure to different flavours and textures is the journey to familiarity, and therefore to liking.”
Scientific evidence suggests that babies have a flavor window between 4 and 18 months during which time they are more open and receptive to new foods and textures. A 2014 study from researchers at the University of Birmingham found that kids were most likely to accept a new vegetable they hadn’t tried before between four and six months of age. “Giving a child new foods repeatedly during the flavor window makes it more likely that they will like those foods. And liking those foods makes them more willing to try other new foods,” advises Quartz.
A study conducted in 2007 saw 49 mothers pick a vegetable purée that their babies (aged 7 months) disliked and they offered that vegetable on alternate days for 16 days (8 exposures). On the other days they gave their babies a liked vegetable (carrot purée). The researchers found that on first exposure, the babies ate on average about three quarters less (39g) of the disliked vegetable compared to the liked one (164g). Over the course of the following two weeks, intake of the disliked vegetable increased and by the eighth exposure the babies ate 174g about the same amount as the liked vegetable (186g). Nine months later, two thirds of the babies were still eating and liking the initially disliked vegetable.
Llewellyn says this shows that if a baby initially dislikes a vegetable, the key is to persevere. “It might be necessary to offer your child the vegetable as many as 15 times, which may feel like a lot and each time your child rejects it you might be very tempted to give up, but keep trying and it should pay off,” she adds.
Meanwhile research by Healthy Families British Columbia suggests that children need to be exposed to a food at least 12 times, and up to 30 times before they will accept it. They say: “Give your toddler many opportunities to look at, touch, smell, and taste new foods. This will help your child to be more accepting of new tastes and textures.”
Leann Birch, a research psychologist with the University of Georgia, tells NPR that it is completely normal for babies to balk at new foods. "That's really just an inbuilt response to something that's new," she says. “It's called neophobia. But if you expose kids enough times to different flavors — including sour, bitter and even spicy ones, but don't force it – they typically will learn to eat a lot of new things."
So yes, it is true that your baby or toddler needs to try a certain food up to 20 times before you can give up on. It may seem like a lot of work but the bottom line is that it's absolutely worth it!