Exposure and Variety of Foods
The Key To Adventurous Eating
Any child can learn to love vegetables. Seriously! But, it does take time and effort for kids to learn to like more complex flavors, some veggies included. Parents must introduce a variety of foods early and often. This article shares some tips and tricks for what you can do to raise an adventurous eater, starting when you’re pregnant! Be prepared, kids might not like new food at first. Variety and exposure is hard, but doable.
First, some science…
You can influence what your child will eat, starting in the womb.
There is limited, but consistent evidence that certain flavors are detected in amniotic fluid and breastmilk. Researchers identified these flavors: garlic, caraway, carrot, eucalyptus, garlic, mint and vanilla. Further they found that if a mom consumed these foods while pregnant or breastfeeding, their child was more likely to accept these flavors later in life. Research is limited to just these foods, but it is a great plug to expand the variety of foods you eat when pregnant!
From six months to 16 months, you have a window to lock in food preferences
When your little one is just getting started with solid food, she’s likely to love everything you feed her. Parents can take advantage of this! You can actually help hardwire her brain to register foods later in life. Meaning, if your little one eats brussels sprouts puree when little, she is more likely to like brussels sprouts when she is 2. Her brain remembers it! This is why exposure to 100 different foods by age 1 is a common challenge (Fooblie will launch one for baby + parents in 2021, whoop!). As a parent, try to serve a variety of foods during this time, and boost exposure by serving the same food (like a carrot) prepared in different ways.
What happens after around 16 months? Your little one will start developing her own preferences and developmentally start to stop trying new things (this is temporary!) But, you will notice it will be harder for you to introduce new foods. We hear from parents something like “But my kid ate ANYTHING yesterday, what happened?”. Well your window to easily introduce new foods has closed!
What about older kids and adults?
The good news is, tastes likes and dislikes are not fixed. From a physiologic point of view, we know that taste buds regenerate every 2 weeks. Tastes change over time! So, if your kid is older than 16 months, the best way to get your kid to like new foods is to keep trying. We nutritionists call this ‘repeated exposure’. A human needs to try something 10 to 15 times before they learn to love it.
What is exposure?
Exposure and variety of foods go hand in hand. Exposure is any form of interaction with the food. Think the senses: see, smell, touch, talk and taste. Research has compared all of these and tasting is most effective. We know that a child needs to be exposed to a new food 10 to 15 times. That means, it needs to go in their mouth. It doesn’t need to be swallowed. Licking works!
But, tastes and textures matter too! A green bean sautéed with butter is not a raw green bean! An interesting study in preschoolers split them in three groups. Each group was repeatedly exposed to their group’s flavor of tofu (sweet, salty or plain). Every kid learned to love tofu, but it was more rare that a kid liked a different taste of tofu right away. The takeaway here? Keep trying different versions of the same food.
Now, how to make this work…
Variety is Queen
The ultimate goal is to mix up what you eat, so each day you are eating something different. This can be SO HARD! Plus, if you try to eat totally novel meals for breakfast lunch and dinner you’ll go crazy! Try to plan ahead some new things in one meal a day.
Here are our favorite tips:
Map it out
Don’t go crazy on this one, but it certainly helps to write out a plan. This can guide your grocery shopping. Fooblie co-founder Melissa uses this note pad (affiliate link) and Dr. Maria has a whiteboard on her fridge that she plans from.
Use theme days to plan your dinners
Here are our favorites to inspire how you plan for a variety of foods:
Color night (like pick one color and go with it!)
Breakfast for dinner
Crockpot / soup night
Meatless night (explore tofu, tempeh, etc!)
Pick a new country or cuisine from a map
Grain night (barley, rice pilaf, couscous… there are some good ones to get in the rotation!)
Use the rainbow to guide your fruit and veg choices
At the grocery store, use colors to guide you. Try to get one fruit or veg for each color in the rainbow.
Remember most veggies (even weird ones) work in soup
Make soup chunky or pureed based on your mood.
Be bold! You can try new things too
Actually, if you eat new foods in front of your little one, they are more likely to try too!
Make a list of what you eat. You may find you’re in a rut or not!
Want more help?
At Fooblie, we are so passionate about variety and exposure it is one of our five foundations to adventurous eating. If you want to talk to one of our Fooblie coaches about how to take this on in your home, we’re here for it!