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How to Unlock Your Baby’s Flavor Window for Life

I wish I had known about the flavor window when my son was an infant! Maybe we could have ditched the chicken nugget-pizza-noodle bandwagon before he turned 10. And please don’t say that I didn’t try hard enough to introduce healthy foods. We spent an entire spring growing Swiss chard together in the backyard planter! (Okay, I found it pretty bitter, too. But still.)

Come to find out like much of life, timing is everything. Bee Wilson, author of First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, points to research that says between the ages of 4 to 7 months, babies are most receptive to new tastes. An article from NPR, covers the research on how infants and children develop food preferences. According to the article, flavor palates actually begin to form in the womb:

There have been remarkable studies done showing that if someone eats a lot of garlic when they’re pregnant, their amniotic fluid will taste and smell garlicky. So imagine swimming around in that for 9 months. … That baby will grow up to love garlic.

The good news from Wilson is that it’s familiarity with a particular food that makes children receptive to it, so even if you miss the “flavor window,” repeated exposure can yield positive results. So maybe one taste of Swiss Chard isn’t going to do the trick, but 10 bites just might.

In our free kidü course Become Your Baby’s Master Chef, nutritionist Jess Haines and food writer Jolène Bouchon team up to offer great advice for helping babies transition to solids and expanding their food preferences. According to Haines and Bouchon, parents can try making new foods palatable by mixing them with beloved tastes, gradually increasing the ratio of new to favorite food.

Our child nutrition experts say that once you’re past the single-food introduction phase (around 7 or 8 months, depending on your tyke), it’s not only safe but also fun to mix flavors. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

  • Use applesauce to brighten up the flavor of peas or green beans.

  • Mix a little mashed turnip or parsnip into potatoes.

  • Think contrast and pair sweet fruits with savory meats: try pork + blueberry, apple + turkey, or pear + chicken.

  • Make fruits more interesting by mixing smoothie-like combos of fruits and spices: mango, banana and pear; blueberry, apple and cinnamon; or papaya and yogurt.

Remember, despite the fact your baby might wear more mashed peas than she swallows, you are doing right by her to continue to serve up the the healthy stuff. It’s about repeatedly providing healthy options without pushing them too hard–you are the chef not the used-car salesperson.

Got it? Good!

Links:

In Baby’s First Bite, a Chance to Shape a Child’s Taste?

Shana Burg