If you are a parent that served your baby store-bought baby food from jars, then you are a parent who knows what it tastes like. Because of course you tasted it. First, you were curious. Second, we love our children too much to give them food we haven’t even tasted yet! So, you know baby food is bland mushy bleck! At least for the most part. Some of it is not bad, like the bananas. Regardless, it’s not exactly a flavor explosion.
Why, oh why, do we feed babies pureed peas with no flavor? Why all the other bland and tasteless mush that lines the baby food shelves? Why can’t babies have flavor?
The answer is simple: There is no reason why. For some reason, we in the United States think a baby’s first solid food should be gruel. Or something akin to gruel. Whether that pureed mush from a jar or rice cereal, etc. the rules are bland, blander, and blandest. This is not to say that some baby food companies, such as Plum Organics, don’t offer interesting varieties and combinations, but, then again, do you normally eat pureed broccoli and apples? And while throwing interesting combinations into blenders may be a good way feed your baby a variety of foods, it’s not exactly a way to get your kid to order off the Indian restaurant menu when the time comes.
If baby food companies in America only market bland baby foods, it would be reasonable to expect some scientific reason. The truth is that there is no science that says babies should not have spices and seasonings in their food, let alone a greater variety of vegetables. And elsewhere in the world, people give their babies much more adventurous and flavorful food. This is a good thing.
I have already written about the fact that breast milk does indeed take on some of the flavors of the food mommy eats. I also explained how this should not dissuade you from eating foods with strong flavors such as onions or garlic. If you eat normally while you are breastfeeding, enjoying all sorts of spicy and flavorful ethnic foods like Indian, Thai, etc. your baby is getting a lot of those flavor sensations in breast milk. Then, when you start your baby on solid foods, the flavor train stops and you roll your baby into Blandville. Seems heartless, if you ask me.
Author Jamie Hale, a friend of mine and researcher who specializes in eating behavior, points out in his article The Development of Food Preferences, that the development or our preferences for food begins very early, even before we are born! So, not only is an infant introduced to new flavors through breast milk but according to the article “dietary flavors are transmitted via amniotic fluid and “…experiences with such flavors lead to heightened preferences for these flavors shortly after birth and at weaning.” 1
Writing about the influence of breastfeeding, Jamie mentions peaches. My son hates peaches and never learned to like them. It just so happens that my wife also does not care for peaches. Neither do I, for that matter. She never ate them while she was pregnant or while breastfeeding. She ate many other fruits, however. Could this have influenced my son’s later acceptance of the flavor of peaches? Yes. By the same reasoning, formula-fed infants will miss out on a lot of flavor experiences that may well influence their food preferences later on.
Research from Japan has found that acceptance of new foods is greatest in children who were given the same foods the family ate than in children given jarred baby food. In fact, the same research suggests that, of those who participated in the study, mothers who followed instructions given in books and articles had a slower rate of progress in getting their children to accept new foods. 2 Not only can children benefit from eating more vegetables (not just fruits), but even hot spicy foods need not be off the menu.
This is not to say that you should just freewheel it and feed your everything and anything. Certainly, you should not give your baby foods that he cannot chew such as meats or very leafy vegetables. Also be aware of allergy risk. However, be aware that even our knowledge food allergies has changed. It is now thought that introducing children to potentially allergenic foods between the ages of 4 to 6, such as peanuts, eggs, or fish, may greatly decrease their risk of developing an allergy to these foods later. You can read more about new rules for feeding your baby at BabyCenter.com, where you can also find a list of adventurous first foods for baby.
- Hale, Jamie. “The Development of Food Preferences.” Psych Central, Psych Central, 17 July 2016, psychcentral.com/lib/the-development-of-food-preferences.
- Sakashita, R, et al. “From Milk to Solids: a Reference Standard for the Transitional Eating Process in Infants and Preschool Children in Japan.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 58, no. 4, 2004, pp. 643–653., doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601860.