London - The parental crusade to get children to eat fruit and vegetables should begin before birth, researchers said last night.
Pregnant women with a varied diet are less likely to give birth to fussy eaters, they said, and babies are more accepting of foods mothers eat regularly while expectant and breast-feeding.
In one study, children whose mothers often drank carrot juice ate twice as much carrot-flavoured cereal when being weaned.
Researcher Dr Julie Mennella from the Monell Centre in Philadelphia said: “The research clearly shows that if mothers eat a lot of fruit during lactation and pregnancy, then their child will be much more open to eating fruit during weaning. The same goes with vegetables.
“Babies are biologically hardwired to be attracted to foods containing sugar and salt, but may not be attracted to bitter foods such as green vegetables. They have to be exposed to fruit and vegetables if they are to learn to like these flavours.
“The good news is our research shows babies can learn very early on about healthy foods,” she said.
“The message is, eat the healthy food you enjoy and when the baby is old enough to start weaning they will be familiar with those flavours.”
In her research, discussed at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference, Dr Mennella tested 46 babies aged between six months and a year for their liking of carrot-flavoured cereal.
Those whose mothers drank carrot juice several times a week consumed more than 80g of the cereal, compared with only 44g in other babies.
“It shows how we are primed by our earliest exposures,” said Dr Mennella.
“Children get sensory information in the womb and through their mothers’ milk.”
Dr Mennella also found that bottle-fed babies quickly accept fruit and vegetables if they are given them when they start eating solids.
In another test, green beans were given to babies for eight days. On the first day, they ate an average of 50g of beans, but over eight days their consumption increased to 80g.
“Regardless of if a child is breast or bottle-fed, it can still learn as soon as it starts to wean. If they are repeatedly exposed to fruit and vegetables, they soon begin to accept these foods,” said Dr Mennella. “By age two, there is no reason a child should not have the same varied diet as an adult.”
She said hiding broccoli in brownies was not the answer, as children need to learn to like the taste of vegetables independently of other flavours. - Daily Mail