Teaching Your Toddler`s Taste Buds

31st October, 2017
Pippa Naudé

A child’s taste buds start developing in utero at about seven weeks, allowing him to sample the amniotic ‘soup’ he swims in. Then, as a baby, he’ll enjoy the sweet flavours of breast milk and formula, and from four months, start to appreciate salty flavours. Bitter and sour flavours take a bit more time. When researching this progression, the Monell Chemical Senses Center found that persistence is key. A baby may need as many as 10 to 15 exposures to any single food before you’ll know if he likes it or not, and facial expressions do not always match their willingness to try a new food – so you shouldn’t be put off by grimaces!

Variety Is Key

Perseverance is critical to help your child develop a palette accustomed to different flavours, so that he is willing to eat a variety of foods from different food groups. Kerryn Gibson, a paediatric and sports dietitian with a private practice in Durban and Ballito, explains,

“We get various nutrients from certain food groups that we can’t get from others. Not eating one or some of the food groups means that key nutrients can be missed from a child’s diet, which will affect their overall development.”

According to research by Rose-Jacobs et al. at Boston University School of Medicine(2008), compared to children in food-secure families (that is, families who have sufficient, safe and nutritious food throughout the year), young children under three who grow up in food-insecure families (families who do not have this same access) are 90%more likely to have fair or poor health rather than good or excellent health, 31%more likely to spend time in hospital, and 76%more likely to have problems in cognitive, language and behavioural development.

Natasha MacDonald, a clinical dietician for Kath Megaw and Associatesand advisory member for Nutripaeds, adds that a balanced diet can prevent health problems such as lethargy, constipation, excess weight gain or anaemia. And she points out that, because eating patterns are developed in the first few years of life which are often carried into adulthood, it’s not only about your child’s current health, but also about building a foundation for their future dietary patterns and health.

Picky Palettes

Knowing how vital a balanced diet is for good health can push parents into a stressed out tailspin in no time – especially when their tot emphatically refuses to eat their veggies, or declares he will only eat Chipniks.

However, while picky eating can be a challenge, it is not necessarily as problematic as you think. Natasha explains that there are degrees of it;

“On one side of the spectrum, toddlers may limit their intake to only a few foods (perhaps even one or two) from each food group, to the other side of the spectrum where whole food groups are excluded. Generally, simple picky eating is not a concern for parents, provided the toddler is eating from all food groups (even if limited) and is growing well. A need for concern arises if a toddler is refusing whole food groups, as important nutrients may be excluded from their diet. If this is the case, it is recommended you consult a dietician.”

If your toddler has picky tendencies, Natasha recommends you keep meal times a happy and fun occasion, and avoid them turning into a battle. “Always encourage foods in a positive manner,”she says, to which she suggests providing meals that are tasty, colourful and visibly appealing, and that you serve new foods with some familiar favourites to encourage intake.

Don’t Diet!

For the same reason that picky eating is problematic, elimination diets are also a big no-no. Kerryn says,

“Important food groups that are often unnecessarily excluded from diets include carbohydrates and dairy. Carbohydrates provide essential nutrients like folate and B vitamins needed for DNA methylation and cell growth. Dairy provides calcium needed for bone and teeth development.”

Another mistake many parents make applying adult eating rules to children is feeding their little one too much fibre or roughage.

“Fibre speeds up digestion, allowing for less time for the absorption of nutrients, while growing children have high requirements for nutrition,” she explains.
Natasha agrees; “Toddlers are very different to adults and grow very quickly during the early years. Toddlers have small tummies and are unable to eat large amounts of foods, so meals and snacks need to be regular and calorie and nutrient dense.” 

For the same reason, you should feed them full fat options rather than low fat ones – such as full cream yoghurt and milk.

Supplement It

If you are concerned, you can supplement your child’s diet to promote a well-balanced intake of different vitamins and minerals, says Kerryn. She suggests a general broad spectrum multivitamin and Omega-3s to be taken daily, while a probiotic does no harm and can contribute towards boosting immunity.

Relax And Give It Time

“A child is constantly learning how to eat. It is not something that they master once off,” says Kerryn. “Parents must remember that they need to constantly be teaching their children about food, and must set a good example for their children to copy. If a parent does not have healthy eating habits then they can’t expect that their child will.” (You can make this easier for everyone, by stocking only healthy foods in your kitchen.) “The more you persist it will eventually pay off, especially if you start when your child is young,” she adds.

Snack Attack Ideas

Kerryn suggests: fresh fruit, dried fruit, plain yoghurt, biltong, raw vegetables with hummus/cream cheese, avocado and nuts.

Natasha recommends: lots of fresh fruits (combine different coloured fruits into a brightly coloured fruit salad), banana sliced and spread with almond butter, carrot and cucumber sticks with cream cheese or hummus, or full cream yoghurt with freshly diced fruit and a dollop of nut butter.

Drinks Are Important Too!

“The gold standard when it comes to choosing a fluid for your toddler is water,” says Natasha. “Water should be introduced from the time of weaning and parents must always remember to lead by example. It is recommended toddlers consume between 400 to 600ml of water per day, so offer it with each meal and frequently in between.”

It’s best to avoid high sugary drinks, such as fruit juices, fizzy drinks, squashes and iced teas, because they have little nutritional value.