Like beauty, taste can be in the eye of the beholder. What tastes scrumptious to you may taste “yucky” to your child. Sadly, if the food you serve does not taste good, your family may not eat it, regardless of its nutritional content or how long you slaved in the kitchen.
“Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right” is this year’s National Nutrition Month theme. NNM is a nutrition education and information campaign created every March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, headquartered in downtown Chicago.
Consumer research confirms that taste tops nutrition as the main reason why one food is purchased over another. While social, emotional and health factors also play a role, the foods people enjoy are likely the ones they eat most.
As parents around the world know, children love sweet-tasting foods. Research conducted by the Monell Center indicates this heightened likeness for sweetness has a biological basis and is related to children’s high growth rate. This preference declines as kids’ physical growth slows.
Other research findings indicate most kids are sensitive to bitter flavors, such as those found in broccoli and other vegetables. Yet it is possible to get kids to enjoy them.
Combine taste and nutrition
“There is a lot of psychology involved with healthy eating and there is a decent amount of evidence that tells us taste buds are adaptable,” says Angela Lemond, RDN, a board certified specialist in pediatric nutrition and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “A lot of parents are all-or-nothing about healthy eating. Kids have high-energy needs, so it’s OK to put a little ranch dressing or cheese on top of vegetables or salad” to improve their taste.
You’ve probably read this before, but it’s worth repeating. The process of a young child learning to enjoy a food can be long and tedious, but it’s worth the time and effort. Three- to 5-year-olds need up to 15 exposures to accept a new food.
Lemond is a big fan of avoiding so-called kid food by serving tots age-appropriate portions of regular grown-up food. If you just make adult food “the norm,” most children will accept it, she says.