My husband likes healthy "foodie" foods. Some of his favorite foods are samosas, hummus and whole wheat crackers, and broccoli.
But when we visit his parents, a strange thing happens.
A bowl full of an unnaturally bright green, jiggly substance makes his eyes light up with happiness. It's "Perfection Salad"-- lime jello with chopped cabbage and carrots.
I have to tease him about liking a food that is so out of line with his other tastes. But it makes me think. Why does he like it? Not because it inherently tastes good. He likes it because he ate it when he was a child.
Children Learn Food Preferences Early
Researchers have found that food that children eat before age 3 sets their preferences for the rest of their lives. Children who eat vegetables in their first 3 years like them as adults. Children who eat french fries and pop tarts in their first 3 years like them as adults.
Each time you give your baby or toddler a meal, you are teaching him a lesson. You are teaching him foods that he will habitually reach for 30 years later.
This is a frightening concept because the foods many parents give their children are foods that could kill them 50 years later. Diet is now the #1 preventable cause of early death.
The Good News: Young Children Are Programmed to Learn New Foods
Babies and toddlers are programmed to learn to like the taste of new foods. Young babies will accept anything. Toddlers are pickier (probably Nature's way to ensure that they don't swallow the potentially poisonous things that they cram in their mouths). However, even toddlers will learn to like foods as long as eat them often enough.
Early childhood can be an exciting time for parents who are determined to give their children a lifelong love of healthy foods. What you feed your children now can have a huge impact later. You can teach your children to have good eating habits for the rest of their lives just by giving them the right kind of food.
More Good News: You Control Their Environment
When your children go to school, they can trade food with other kids. When they are teenagers, they can buy their own food. But when they are babies or toddlers, you can decide exactly what they eat.
Young childhood is a very easy time to teach children to love healthy food. Just avoid sweets, bland refined grains, and other junk food. Focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, and healthy unprocessed meats.
What If My Children Are Older Than 3?
What if you've already passed that crucial age? Is it too late to teach a 6 year old, a 10 year old, or a teenager to like healthy food?
People of all ages can learn to like healthy food if they repeatedly eat the food, and don't eat the junk foods that make real food taste bad.
Even adults can change their taste preferences. A vegetarian who decides to avoid meat for ethical reasons finds that after several months he doesn't like the taste of meat anymore. A heart attack victim who switches to a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains finds that after a while he doesn't miss the hamburger and french fry lunches that he used to love.
If you start when your child is older than 3 it may take longer and not be as complete. But you can definitely make a huge difference.
What About Teenagers?
Teenagers reach another period where they are open to new tastes. Their brains are growing and changing rapidly, which makes teenagers receptive to new experiences.
The good news is that teenagers are less picky than younger children. The bad news is that teenagers usually have the freedom to eat whatever they (or their friends) want.
It's important to have regular family meals with your teenager. Try to aim for a family breakfast and a family supper. Your teen will experience at least one or two meals a day of healthy food.
Teach your teen about nutrition (without being preachy). Related it to something she is interested, like improving her basketball game or reducing acne. Avoid mentioning her weight or suggesting that she diet because doing these things might trigger an eating disorder.
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Teach Your Child the Taste of Fresh Food
Family Meals Help Children Like Healthy Foods: Part 1
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