Familiarity with a variety of healthy foods through the early years leads children to good eating habits later
08/17/2018 // Zoey Sky // Views

For parents, encouraging children to eat healthier can be a daunting task, especially if their little ones are very picky. According to a review paper, the best way to remedy this is to introduce your children to different kinds of diets and an assortment of healthy food. Don't be discouraged if your kids refuse to eat the food because your perseverance is key to getting them used to healthy eating habits.

The review paper's lead author, Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, is also a researcher in the Department of Pediatrics' behavioral medicine division.

Anzman-Frasca said it was their aim to examine the data at hand to come up with guidelines for parents and caregivers. They can then use this guide to help teach children to start eating healthy "as early as possible."

The scientists formulated recommendations based on data gathered from "more than 40 peer-reviewed studies on how infants and young children develop preferences for healthy foods, especially vegetables and fruits." (Related: Eating healthy meals as a family found to reduce high-risk behaviors in children.)

The researchers advise parents that healthy eating must begin during pregnancy since the flavor of the foods that a mother eats "reach the child in utero." Anzman-Frasca shares that if the mom is following a healthy diet, the fetus is exposed to those flavors and helps them get used to it. After childbirth, if the mother breastfeeds, the baby is still exposed to flavors from her healthy diet via the breast milk they consume.


Because of these early exposures, a baby will get used to certain flavors, making it easier to introduce a variety of "healthy flavors in solid foods" to them. Keeping this up past infancy and repeatedly feeding children foods that they initially refused to eat can eventually help them acquire a taste for it.

Anzman-Frasca comments that this way of teaching children to eat more of a certain food "has a robust evidence base behind it." She cites various studies with preschoolers that, for example, hated red bell peppers or squash, but soon started liking them after being offered the food at least five to six times.

But it must be taken into account that this is not a practical technique for low-income homes that might not want to waste food. The researchers urge "for interventions to promote repeated exposure to healthy foods in these environments" that can also help solve issues like this.

Healthy eating suggestions for children

Anzman-Frasca suggests these tips to get encourage healthy eating:

  • Eating various foods during the prenatal period, early milk feeding, and toddlerhood – This lets you take advantage of periods when neophobia (rejection of novel things) is lower.
  • Starting with a simple approach – Expose children to foods that they do not like repeatedly, or let them see their caregivers or siblings enjoying the consumption of various healthy foods.

Anzman-Frasca advises parents and caregivers to persevere because encouraging healthy eating habits will benefit their children in the long run.

More tips to get kids to eat healthier

Try these additional tips to get your kids started on healthy eating habits:

  • Serve breakfast for dinner – Kids get bored easily, so try to serve breakfast at night or dinner in the morning. Just because you serve a bowl of oatmeal with fruits at night doesn't mean it's any less nutritious.
  • Teach them how to cook – Include kids in the meal planning and cooking at least once a week. Try meals with healthy ingredients like various fruits and vegetables and let them create their own dish.
  • Use sauces – Children love dips, and you can introduce them to healthy alternatives like yogurt, applesauce, or hummus. Dressings, condiments, and sauces are also perfect for introducing them to new tastes.

You can read more articles about fresh food and tips on healthy eating at Fresh.news.

Sources include:



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