Baby’s First Foods: A Jump-Start to Lifelong Health

More and more studies are proving that our earliest exposures to food – both before and after birth – set the stage for lifelong flavor preferences and eating habits. This means, as parents, you have more control over what kinds of foods your child likes than you probably realize.

This topic is expertly covered by the Gastropod podcast titled “First Foods: Learning to Eat,” which provides a fascinating (and entertaining!) overview of the history behind baby’s first foods and the science that informs our flavor palates. Below we’ll dive into some interesting highlights, along with helpful pediatric care tips for helping your baby develop a taste for healthy foods – from the get-go.

Expand Your Baby’s Palate Before The First Bite.

Did you know that our taste for complex flavors is developed before we’re even born? It’s true! Flavors as diverse as garlic, vanilla, carrot, anise, and mint (to name a few) are passed from mother to baby via amniotic fluid. According to Julie Mennella from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a baby consumes several ounces of amniotic fluid a day and can start to experience flavors as early as 21 weeks of gestation.

Flavor “imprinting” also continues through breastfeeding, meaning that breast milk carries hints of flavor from a mother’s diet. As a result, babies whose mothers consume varieties of spices and herbs – before and after pregnancy ­– are likely to prefer these same foods and flavors from very early ages.

What Solids Are Safe for Your Baby?

At GetzWell Pediatrics, we believe that babies should be exposed to a wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies as early as possible. Most pediatric care professionals recommend introducing solids anywhere from 4 to 7 months.  According to the aforementioned Gastropod podcast, this is a critical time for introducing a smorgasbord of flavors and textures to babies because they’re more apt to try new things during this phase.

Research from the De Montfort University reveals that babies who start on solids of fresh home-cooked meals are more likely to naturally gravitate towards fruits and vegetables throughout childhood than those regularly fed packaged baby food.

So, What About Commercial Baby Food?

Beginning in the 1950s, commercial baby food was the go-to “first food” for infants. At that time the marketing message was essentially anything that came in a box was superior to what could be made in one’s own kitchen. Furthermore, it was highly convenient but ended up producing generations of children raised on overly processed foods devoid of texture, complex flavor, fiber and micronutrients. Meals prepared at home are very different from processed baby foods which are typically hyper-strained and sweet – in effect teaching infants that all “foods” have the same mouth-feel and are sugary. In the end, babies receive the most nutritional value from real, organic foods.

Of course, there is a growing market for organic baby foods and there are some good options for high quality locally made foods, some of which are available through Good Eggs, an organic grocery online marketplace based in San Francisco. If you choose to go the more commercial route, it’s important to do your research. We recommend searching the Environmental Working Group’s Baby Food Scores database for the safest products to feed your baby.

3 Tips for Introducing New Foods: 

  1. Eat by example. Babies are little copycats and learn by example. And they’re almost always interested in whatever you’re eating. Taking the time to make home-cooked meals can really make all the difference for you and your family. Fortunately for those of us in San Francisco, we live in a pretty health-conscious city and have easy access to locally grown, organic foods.
  2. Offer “Tiny Tastes”. Pioneered by Lucy Cooke, author of “Stress Free Feeding”, the tiny tastes method involves giving children a taste of a very small amount of a new or disliked food every day for up to 15 days (and sometimes, when they’re old enough, in exchange for a sticker reward). The science tells us that up to 20 “tries” are often necessary to develop a liking for new flavors, and the goal is that with enough exposures over time your child will develop a taste for the food.
  3. Try the “Plate A and Plate B” method, which consists of offering portions of new or disliked foods on one plate and larger portions of liked foods on another. Kids are encouraged to take alternate bites from each plate – guaranteeing a good taste after a not-so-liked taste. This arms the child with the choice of trying something new with the goal of expanding their palate (and plate) over time.

Remember: Every Palate is Unique.

Babies aren’t going to like everything you offer them – but the idea is not to give up after a single try. It’s all about opening their little worlds to a universe of food variety as early as possible.

Give us a call at our San Francisco pediatric care offices and let us help you design a nutrition plan to expand your baby’s palate – 415.826.1701.