From It’s Not About Nutrition:
Toddlers are particularly vulnerable to eating poisonous foods because of two conditions: their newfound mobility frequently puts them out of momma’s protective reach, and they have a natural desire to put things into their mouths. Making toddlers reluctant to eat unfamiliar foods is Mother Nature’s way of solving this problem.
I don’t buy it.
1) This theory can’t explain why a child would reject a familiar food; one they’ve learned is not poisonous; one that’s already been cleared for consumption by mom.
2) Anyone who has ever been around a toddler knows these kids will put anything into their mouths—as long as it seems dangerous, weird, or something that would freak their parents out. Dirt. Flowers. Legos. But healthy vegetables? No way.
Here’s what I think (and it’s backed up by research).
Toddlers reject vegetables because other things taste better.
Of course control, developmental and personality issues also play a role. But answer this: How long after your child started eating solids did you switch from plain Cheerios to Honey Nut Cheerios?
Or start serving up Brown Sugar Cinnamon Oatmeal instead of plain oatmeal?
When did you trade in your child’s plain yogurt for vanilla, blueberry, or those delightful yogurt tubes? Introduce apple juice? Goldfish crackers? Chicken nuggets?
Around the time your child started rejecting vegetables?
Baby Food is bland, and it all—fruits, vegetables, cereals—taste basically the same. In comparison, toddler food is full of flavor. In fact, it gives kids a “flavor-hit.”
Researchers recently discovered:
Kids who eat foods high in sugar, salt and fat—the basic “Child-friendly” diet—end up seeking out these kinds foods in order to achieve a “flavor-hit.” They’re going for the high!
Child-friendly foods may seem bland and boring to you, but these items are loaded with sugar, salt and fat. And kids like them! Read The Truth About “Child-Friendly” Foods.
That’s probably why the old standby, pasta with butter and parmesan, is such a success: Think salt and fat.
“Flavor-hit” foods train your kids to like junk (corn chips, not corn; cheese puffs, not cheese, and strawberry ice cream, not strawberries). “Flavor-hit” foods never taste like broccoli. (But they do taste like french fries!)
In other words, the basic “child-friendly” toddler diet trains your kids’ taste buds away from vegetables.
The way to increase vegetable consumption—or to stop the downslide— is to consciously manage the flavors you feed your kids.
Don’t think about nutrients as much as flavors, and don’t overload your kids with sugar, salt, and fat. That was the message in my post Why Toddlers Don’t Eat Vegetables.
The reason is clear: Research shows that when kids eat a diet filled with sugar, salt, and fat they want more of these flavors. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, and manufacturers are happy to oblige.
In all fairness, INAT is a blog that mostly covers food in regards to children, but I think this applies to “big people,” too. I think it’s safe to say that, in about 85% of the e-mails I receive that reference some kind of “I don’t like vegetables” line of thinking, there’s always a “because they taste bad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” phrase in ‘em. And while it’s one thing to manage your children’s intake of fruits and veggies this way, it’s another thing entirely to approach the situation this way as an adult.
Our children don’t know the ramifications of the decisions they make – my four year old doesn’t understand that trying to climb to the top of the entertainment center doesn’t mean she’ll find the treasure (?!) she’s looking for, and if she did find said treasure I’d be taking it from her anyway – which is why we, as parents, manage their decisions for them. I know she needs to brush her teeth, lest we be eternally accosted by that toddler breath. I know she needs to be fully clothed in long sleeves and pants when she goes bike riding, or she’ll scrape herself up. I also know she needs to eat her darn veggies, or she’s gonna grow up with the scurvy that Spongebob and P!nk sing about.
As adults, though, we know what these diseases look like. We sometimes even know what they feel like. We understand the ramifications of eating poorly, and we also know that we have to help ourselves…because we don’t have parents who are still interested in managing our adult affairs. (At least, I hope not.)
“Tasting bad[ly]” is relative to whatever else you’ve tasted and whatever tastes you’re attached to. Does cauliflower taste badly compared to cheesecake? Absolutely. Hell, cauliflower tastes bad compared to broccoli, if you ask me. That doesn’t change the fact that it provides my body what it needs, and it has a distinct taste and texture that I should figure out how to make work for my taste buds. And if I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to eat the things I need because the things I want and like taste better, then it sounds like it’s time for me to cut my intake of the things I want and like so that I can stop playing around.