Ask Amma

How do kids’ tastes change?

In How on 18 July 2014 at 7:07 pm

I have been trying to understand how toddler’s tastebuds change, but unable to find right sort of literature for it. My son used to love all fruits and green smoothie until he was 11 months old.  His appetite reduced a great deal and after sometimes his tastebuds too changed drastically. Slowly he stopped eating fruits and green smoothie. He only used to have some bits of watermelon until 10 days ago. He stopped that too now. He only eats occasional chickoo.

Yummy in my tummy!

Yummy in my tummy!

I had read in several places about how mother’s diet affects child’s liking to certain foods through breastfeeds. I have done everything by the book, consumed lots of greens, fruits, etc. I thought it was working too until quite recently.  I really want to understand how his mind works and chooses certain foods over others.  Will he ever get back to fruits now?

Note: I follow partly baby-led eating approach, but do feed him by hand (no spoons) when running out of time.  I don’t try to force feed him, I let him feed himself half the meal, the other half I feed him, until he does not want to eat anymore.

Mother of a 1 year-old in Bangalore

Eating whole, fresh foods is both the key to shaping your nursling’s tastes and good for your own health.  What is good for you is also good for baby so stop thinking about baby’s diet in isolation, do what is good for your family and trust baby to do what is good for him.  He may want more or less of certain foods in response to any number of factors; he may be experimenting with different foods and processing feedback from his digestive and immune systems as well as his own curiosity.

Dinner at home

Dinner at home

We can muse over the question of how tastes develop but we need not worry or intervene.  The basis is trust.  As long as a variety of healthy foods are available, then it is all right for baby to eat or not eat as he wishes.   Especially when breastfeeding it is fine if his outside food intake waxes and wanes.  In fact, we should be surprised if it were otherwise.  It is during the breastfeeding years that you truly need not monitor how much food your child eats and you should take full advantage of this opportunity to develop the healthy habit of trust and your child to develop the healthy habit of tuning in to his own bodies’ needs and eating freely without surveillance or expectations.

Picking up on other points you raise:

Little ones can eat on their own.

Little ones can eat on their own.

Hand or spoon?  He may use his hand, a spoon, or your hand as a spoon.  Regardless of the implement, let him decide whether and how much to eat.  I recommend that we let babies pick up their own food and eat just like everyone else.  Even if you are offering assistance, you should offer with no strings attached and no motive to encourage him to eat more or to eat faster than he would on his own.  This may sound counter-intuitive to the legion of parents, grandparents and babysitters who employ any number of techniques from colorful bowls and spoons to song, dance, story, praise and reward for eating.  (What’s wrong with this?  Please see: How Children Learn to Eat.)

Running out of time:  You mentioned that while your son eats on his own, you sometimes feed him when running out of time.  I would avoid this.  Time is as important to the experience of eating as any ingredient in the food.  Breastfeeding babies can eat again if they are hungry.  You can also keep some chopped fruit, veggies, puffed grains and other finger foods handy.  It is never to early to learn to eat until you are no longer hungry and not until you are so full you could not eat another bite.

There could be a variety of reasons for eating less:

Less than what?  What he ate last month may have been preparing for a growth spurt.  You thought that was the new normal, but he is done and eating the amount that is right for him now.   Growth spurts may be physical, emotional or intellectual.

Less solid food, more breastfeeding – Children will adjust the balance of solids and breast milk according to various things going on in their lives, not always apparent to observers.  For example, if they are fighting an illness that hasn’t yet manifested as a full blown illness, their bodies will naturally discourage them from outside food and they will compensate by breastfeeding more.  This simultaneously eases the load on the digestive system and helps them get antibodies through breast milk.  They may be very busy exploring or learning something new and temporarily lose interest in eating foods.  As long as they can make up the shortfall through breastfeeding, they will keep tasting the foods through the milk and try eating it again another time.

What you can do:

Let them eat!  The idea that children don’t eat well is so widespread and yet so mistaken.  Just let children eat!

Change the way you think about how your child eats: 

Children go through growth spurts so you may have gotten used to seeing him eat a certain amount but if he grows through a spurt, then post-spurt he may eat less – which is normal for him and only appears “less” to you.  And sometimes the digestive system needs a little rest.   We tend to be happy when they eat but what we should learn to be happy about is that they have made a decision in accordance with their own bodies and minds.  Whether they have chosen to eat or not eat is secondary, and in any case temporary – one keeps eating and not eating throughout the day.

If you think he is not eating because he is unwell, unhappy or otherwise having a problem then of course you should address that problem.  (Bear in mind that eating less food may be his way of addressing the problem, especially if he is making up the shortfall with breast milk.)
If you think that he is hungry but not enjoying the food, I think it is reasonable to try to offer the food he likes.   Sometimes if we shift our focus from all that they are not eating to the things they are eating, we will find that there are more options than we thought.  You can also try new recipes, have more picnics or do other things that make mealtimes more fun.  Try Simple Snacks and Simple Raw Snacks.


Will cutting back on breastfeeding encourage my child to try more foods?

Breastfeeding is your strongest ally in the effort to introduce foods to your child.  Think of it this way:  breastfeeding is your child’s strongest ally in preparing for the world of food.  Considering the small size of a child’s stomach, I think there is enough appetite for both breastfeeding and outside food in the course of the day.  There is no need to deny one in order to promote the other.  If you notice that your child eats more at certain times and places than others, there is no harm in offering solids then and there.  My feeling is that children transition to solid foods not because they are hungry but because they are curious and because they are mobile.  When you trust your milk and trust your child, you will also trust the food to appeal to your child when your child is ready.

If in the hopes of increasing food consumption, you introduce highly processed foods at an age when children are still breastfeeding, then you risk compromising breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding teaches children the taste of food; formula teaches the taste of packaged food.

If we cater to our children’s tastes, will we raise picky eaters?

If you cater to your children’s tastes from among regular family meals and snacks made of fresh, whole foods, eaten directly or via breastfeeding, then their tastes will develop in tune with their needs.  If in response to your children’s tastes you try new recipes, so much the better for the whole family.   If you defer to the food industry which synthesizes flavours and textures that are designed to increase food consumption then you run into a risk of  compromising your family’s ability to align your tastes and time schedules with whole, home-made foods that are more diverse in flavour, texture and eating procedure than foods that come out of a box (or straw) and into the mouth.

My daughter’s experience
In her first year of eating solids, my daughter eagerly ate each and every fruit and vegetable.  People would notice how readily she picked up food and ate it with gusto, whether it was a bright chunk of papaya or a slice of raw సోరకాయ (bottle gourd).
At some point she became choosy with her vegetables and I do remember making a second dish when we were planning to have foods that she did not eat, such as  కాకరకాయ (bitter gourd), వంకాయ (eggplant) or బీరకాయ (ridge gourd).  Eventually we learned that though she did not much like బీరకాయ కూర (cooked ridge gourd), she liked it as బీరకాయ పచ్చడి or in pickle form, along with plain పప్పు (dal).  I don’t remember specifics but gradually her range expanded to include any vegetable other than వంకాయ (eggplant) and కాకరకాయ bitter (gourd).  Recently she started liking eggplant and is open to the idea of eating bitter gourd in the future.  Similarly there was a time when she preferred plain dal and so for years we set some aside for her no matter what we made.  But gradually she started eating all the dishes and I don’t think we have set aside plain dal for a while now.
Had we pushed her to eat these things, would she have eaten them sooner?  I honestly don’t know.  If she had eaten them sooner would it have been good for her?  That too I can’t say. My friend learned that her son was craving foods with a certain flavonoid that it turned out he needed for a particular health problem he had.  Once she allowed him to eat those foods and skip others, his allergies disappeared.
How will children broaden their taste horizons?
Ask yourself why you want your children to eat a greater spectrum of foods.  If they are so limited in their food choices that you worry about nutrient deficiency, then you may need to investigate possible allergies and use nutritional supplements while you sort the issue out.  If you delay processed packaged foods until after they have established a robust appetite for fresh and diverse whole foods, then while they may have strong preferences, they will be able to explore the spectrum of foods as occasion tempts them.  One thing that motivated my daughter to broaden her palate was the desire to be able to enjoy more of the spread when we went to other people’s houses, or to weddings.
Try more raw foods.  Many of us grew up eating little or no salad and even then treating it as a side dish.  Actually raw vegetables are not only good for us, but often preferred by the young.  I remember once after arranging a variety of chopped, grated and sliced raw vegetables on the table to be used as taco fillings, eagerly gobbled up by a group of young children including several who were considered highly picky eaters at home, hearing my husband comment, “I don’t know why we spend so much time cooking when you just want to eat the food raw.”
Don’t make an issue. I have seen children who were considered poor eaters at home, try new things in at others’  homes or in situations where they were not under pressure to eat.  There were foods I did not fully appreciate until I went to college and started cooking for myself.
Encourage children to help plan meals.  Browse some recipe books, make a shopping list and go to the market together.  Whether you try new things or not, getting involved in the process of preparing meals is good for the appetite.

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