Have you ever heard of a fear… of new foods? Infants and toddlers face the big challenge of expanding their diet with new flavors, textures, and quantities within a short period of time. This fear of new foods is a real concern for many families.
Think about what it would feel like to eat bugs? What if someone brought it to you and sat watching for your reaction? In various parts of the world, they are considered a delicacy. However, I can speak for myself and say, I would need A LOT of convincing to find myself at the table, ready to eat them… especially when I currently eat the most perfect food which hits the spot, why would I want something else, especially something new and foreign? I would imagine I would want to touch it, smell it, taste it, feel it in my mouth, maybe I would be afraid to bite down and chew… most likely, spitting it back out, too scared to swallow. Maybe the next night, I would skip the first few steps and put it right in my mouth, maybe biting down, but still spitting it out. The next time, maybe I would do all of the above, and swallow one bite… MAYBE after 10-15 tries, I would find the food to be tasteful, familiar, and officially a part of my diet. But what would have happened if a new bug had been introduced after 1-2 tries of the first… I would still be horrified from the first experience, and now facing a new one, with even more doubt that one day they would be delicious…. even if everyone around me couldn’t get enough of them! How would this make me feel to continue on this path of the unknown?? Maybe I would hang on to the foods I love, hoping that if I held on long enough, the ‘familiar’ would reappear on my plate… after failed attempts of ‘trying’ many new foods all at once…. what if my hope came true? What if I sat down, frustrated, and my favorite food, so familiar and plain, reappeared…. would I EVER feel the same about trying something ‘new’ again?? If I understood that denying the ‘new’ long enough, would get me back to the familiar, would I ever want to change?? Even if I knew I was missing out on something delicious?? Now 5 yr has passed, and I am still eating the same foods, do you think it will be easy for me to approach the ‘new’ again? Now with better awareness of MY wants and needs and the ability to verbalize my independence, what would I do if someone brought that infamous bug back to my plate? What would you do? What if someone forced you to eat it? What if someone told you you didn’t like it, even if you didn’t completely remember what it tastes like?
Our role in the introduction to food and flavor, is a HUGE indicator of later acceptance to new foods. This process, first starts with flavor learning in pregnancy and lactation. Infants are exposed to flavors from mom’s diet in utero and through mom’s breast milk. These flavors, prime the infant, making these foods more accepting and less like the unknown. In one study, moms were offered carrot juice or tomato juice throughout pregnancy and lactation. Infants/toddlers in these groups, when compared to the control and one another, preferred their respective food throughout childhood and beyond. Researchers sampled amniotic fluid and breast milk for analysis. Both offered the scent of their respective food, validating the point that infants are exposed to many flavors beginning in pregnancy. COOL right?? So no, eating a wide variety of foods in pregnancy and lactation is not required, BUT imagine what a healthy diet beginning in pregnancy and lactation can do for introducing solids, and combating neophobia… Already beyond this point? Take from the beginning of the story, focus on one new food at a time, offering 10-15 chances for acceptance. Make meals a family event, where everyone talks and shares time with one another, without the focus falling on the food. Make mealtime enjoyable, offering, yet avoiding doubt or force. With the knowledge of children experiencing neophobia as a normal developmental behavior, offer a relaxed environment, open to experimentation, like little Lilly above. Look how the food is all over her hands, she is picking up texture and feel… on her face, where she can smell the food, on her mouth where she likely spit some out, and in her mouth, where she is now tasting the food. She is holding her spoon, learning to feed herself, while mom offers spoonfuls to provide volume for the meal. Yes… this is messy, just like arts and crafts, but what better way to ensure a healthy diet for life? I like to think the best eaters began by sitting in their diaper, painting their face with carrots as they eat, and happily being carried to the bathtub at the end of the meal…. : )