Shaping Children’s Food Preferences: Training Taste Buds and Nurturing Healthy Choices

Author: Yean Toh | Published date: May 30, 2023 | Category: Nutrition

Concerns about Children’s Food Preferences

Many parents worry that if children are left on their own, they would naturally choose "junk" foods that contain excessive amounts of sugar, salt, unhealthy fats and artificial favours.

Yet it is often the parents who introduced their children to these junk foods in the first place. When parents are health conscious eaters and they give their children only fresh natural foods, their children will naturally make the same healthy choices. Similar preferences have been observed among young people from rural areas, who grow up on natural foods without being exposed to modern processed foods. They, too, dislike "junk" foods.

The Crucial Time: Training Taste Buds during the Oral Phase

The crucial time for training your child's taste buds is during the "oral phase" between 6 and 18 months. During this phase, the child is eager to pick up and eat just about anything. So it is important to introduce your children to as many natural foods as possible during this phase and not expose them to junk foods.

 After the 18th month, the child becomes more "fussy" about food. This shows Nature's wisdom in protecting them against dangers - because an 18-month-old child is just about old enough to venture on its own, pick up some toxic substance and eat it. So the child would not be as adventurous in trying new foods beyond this age. And if the child does pick up something poisonous, chances are that the item will produce a repulsive taste sensation. So the child might just taste the item and spit it out. Or, if poisons are ingested, the body has natural mechanisms like vomiting and diarrheas to expel them.

Navigating Taste Associations and Confusion

Things are not always straightforward, however. While most poisons taste bitter, some beneficial or medicinal plants also taste bitter. The natural association between taste and food is further confused by man-made chemicals. For instance, artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are toxic to the brain, yet they taste sweet, which is normally associated with acceptable foods. We therefore need to continue "educating" our taste buds even as adults. But the foundations are laid during weaning and the months that follow. Weaning is the crucial period for training a child to accept a wide range of natural, health-promoting foods.

Enticing Children with Flavorful and Visually Appealing Foods

This is achievable if you entice your child with natural foods that have the full range of flavours and taste sensations. It also helps to make the food visually appealing – colourful (naturally, without the use 01 artificial colouring) and well presented rather than having everything dumped together and looking like swill.
It helps also to introduce different textures, from different ways of cutting and cooking. For example, carrot that is grated, cut finely or cut into large chunks will have very different tastes and textures. Likewise if you serve it raw, lightly cooked or stewed for a long.
Most of all, create a conducive ambience that makes meal times comfortable and enjoyable. Never associate meals with forcing and scolding. Instead, they should be happy experiences filled with love, which your children will cherish. This will set the path for a healthy, happy future.

The Stakes: Your Child's Destiny and Your Happiness

The destiny of your child's health is ultimately your responsibility – simply because you have the power to choose the epigenetic programs that would positively influence your child's genetic expression. In fact, you could improve your child's destiny even further by inhibiting the undesirable epigenetic programs that you may have transmitted. Your personal and family history will tell you what these programs are.
At stake is your child's destiny — and your comfort and happiness. Parenting is a challenging task. But it is far easier to cope if you choose the challenges at an early stage. Once your children start to develop serious health problems — such as eczema, asthma, autism or childhood cancers — the challenges become that much greater.
As a paediatrician, I have come across many such cases and it breaks my heart to see the difficulties that parents struggle with. It is not that I want to frighten you. These problems are very real. My wish for you is that you will do your utmost to avoid them.

This content is adapted, with permission, from Book 1 of 2 : The Wonders of Nutrition by Dr Ang Poon Liat. MBBS, M.MED (PAED), MRCP (UK PAED), FAMS, MD.



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