A friend once joked that becoming a parent turns a person into an ATM — you are dispensing cash all the time, and you need to be online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We all laughed, but we all also quickly realized that the analogy is spot on.
There are so many demands on a parent’s time, and wallet that sometimes we can be forgiven for cutting corners say in the area of meals for the family. Much as we would like to serve healthy meals, when you work eight hours a day or more, plus get caught in traffic, you tend to go for convenience — a bucket of chicken or pizza instead of a homecooked meal.
Unfortunately, it is a lifestyle that leads to cake and ice cream to become your child’s best friends. That is why when we do have some free time to introduce healthier varieties, our children do not want to eat vegetables or look at fresh fruits as the enemy. Changing their taste buds seems a losing battle. But is it really? If we can change their eating habits, how and where do we begin?
It is never too early to teach our kids to start eating well
For answers on how to raise healthy eaters, a Danish study offers interesting insights that show it’s never too early to start eating well. In the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, they have the Department of Food Science where about 180 scientists are focused on the many aspects of food and the technology to produce them.
Within the department, there is a research group called the Section for Sensory and Consumer Science. They examine the sensory quality of foods and evaluate the different nuances in taste, textures, and appearances of different kinds of foods using the five senses. The department also works on understanding food acceptance by consumers like you and me.
Their research looks into how foods become accepted or rejected, and how food behaviors and habits develop over one’s life span. The research involved scientists that focused on the sensory quality of foods, which they believe play an essential role in the different habits people develop with foods.
According to Wender Bredi, professor of Sensory Science, Faculty of Science at the University of Copenhagen, “In a world where global trade makes food more widely available across different cultures, our exposures to food items change, and our eating habits are continuously adjusted in small steps, at a time. Given the fact that over the next decade, more than 3 billion people are moving from poverty to middle-class status, they will get access to new food commodities.
Our children today have eating habits that are different from ours, just as our parents ate differently than us. And part of the blame lays on food that is readily available in groceries, school cafeteria, and restaurants. From taking 30 minutes to one hour to prepare snacks for school-age kids, it’s easier to pack store-bought biscuits and juice in tetra-packs in their bags.
Lunch can be bought in school, and some offer far too many tempting choices — from fried foods to processed meats to flavored French fries. Instead of cooking meals over wood fires or gas ranges, the microwave oven has become a staple in many kitchens. We can reheat food we bought, or open the refrigerator for the frozen meals that only need two to three minutes in a microwave to be edible.
Start from the womb to develop healthy eating habits
In the Danish study, Wender Bredi, professor of Sensory Science, Faculty of Science at the University of Copenhagen, presented the different ways people learn to accept food, and somewhere in there are nuggets of wisdom you can use to engage your kids, and change your eating habits too.
From your womb, your child begins to develop taste preferences
According to Bredi, an unborn child is exposed to different tastes and smells via amniotic fluid. “Preferences for sweet tastes in the utero are already developed before birth just like the rejection for bitter and sour tastes.”
He cited a study where prenatal exposure to aniseed flavor was shown to exhibit positive head movements towards aniseed odor in infants just after birth. “There is clear evidence for a relation between what a mother eats during pregnancy and the initial stages of flavor programming in the unborn child.”
Infants are more accepting of new flavors than older children
Bredi’s research also showed that in comparison with toddlers and other children, infants tend to accept new flavors more rapidly, requiring fewer exposures. The introduction to new flavors is courtesy of Mommy’s diet, especially for breastfed babies. Bredi said early exposure to a variety of flavors during a mother’s pregnancy, and lactation is essential to create healthier diets in children.
Breast milk is really best for babies
To see more proof how a baby’s food preferences are developed through Mommy’s diet, they looked at infants fed by breast milk or formula milk. Research has shown that many flavor components in the mother’s diet can be transmitted through her milk — from mentol in chewing gums to carvone from caraway seeds to isopentyl acetate from bananas. Bredi said that breast-fed infants showed a greater acceptance of new flavors than infants fed with formula milk.
If you are not breastfeeding, Bredi recommended varying formula milk rather than being fixed on a particular brand to improve flavor acceptance in babies.
The healthy diet clock is ticking: the younger they are, the better your chances
The studies also discovered that acceptance of food is not learned as quickly across different ages. According to Bredi: “After the first say, two years of life, the introduction of new foods can become more difficult. At the age between 2 and 6 years, a greater decline in accepting novel foods is generally observed.”
As children grow into adulthood, it’s harder to get them to try new and healthier diet alternatives, that is, until they reach the age of consent. Bredi explained that the phenomenon to experiment with new flavors and broaden food acceptance “may return when people can become particular picky about their food likes and dislikes.”
So you see it’s never too late for your children and for you also to take a positive step in a healthy direction.
If you want to know more about what breastfeeding moms can and cannot eat, click here.