Research shows that increased exposure to foods results in increased liking and acceptance of the same foods. The best time to start exposing your child to a variety of flavours is before they’re even born. Foetuses swallow amniotic fluid which reflects what their mum eats, so a diverse diet during pregnancy is a great idea. This will mean that you’re more likely to cover all your own and baby’s nutritional bases as well as have a head start on getting your child to eat well further down the line.
Morning sickness, tiredness and dietary limitations on certain foods during pregnancy can make eating a diverse diet more difficult. One way to increase the variety in your diet is to eat seasonally - and eating this way is kinder to your wallet too. Consider meal swaps; make a double batch of a dish and exchange half with a friend so you both get to try two different meals. If you try a new recipe per week, you can improve your dietary diversity and your cooking repertoire.
Another important period during which you can expose your baby to new flavours is during breastfeeding. As you probably know, the composition of breast milk is affected by what mum eats and drinks. While this can be a pain if you want a glass of wine, it can help your baby become accustomed to the flavours of foods you couldn’t eat during pregnancy. If you notice that baby’s stomach seems to be upset when you eat certain foods, cut it out for a few days and see if that makes a difference.
Starting complementary feeding too early or late can also affect your child’s later eating behaviour. The best time to start introducing your baby to solid food is after six months of exclusive breastfeeding. Before this time, your baby’s digestive system isn’t ready for solid foods, but starting too late can also increase the risk for fussy eating and mean your baby might not get enough iron.
Don't worry though! There are lots of things you can do to increase the variety of foods your child will eat even if you didn’t start as early as pregnancy, breastfeeding and introduction of complementary foods and I’ll talk about these in future posts.