March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Believe it or not, your baby starts tasting foods long before she or he gets the first spoonful of cereal. In fact, researchers at the Monell Center in Philadelphia discovered that a baby's sensory system can taste flavors from its mother's diet that travel through the mother's bloodstream into the amniotic fluid.
Breast Milk Introduces New Flavors
Your newborn tastes more new flavors during breast-feeding. Spices, herbs, and natural flavors from foods like onions and garlic can give breast milk a distinct taste. This introduces your baby to the taste of foods in your diet. "Breastfeeding moms should continue to eat a variety of foods, including strongly flavored, nutrition-packed vegetables like broccoli that supply important vitamins and minerals," advises Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, LD/N, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Moms of fussy babies can be quick to eliminate certain foods in their diet but fussiness often is caused by other factors."
Breast-fed babies generally adapt well to the taste of solid foods. "When it comes time to start solids, they accept new foods more readily than formula fed babies do because of the flavors in breast milk," says Karen Peters, MBA, RD, IBCLC, executive director of the Breastfeeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles.
Try Foods More Than Once
Babies are naturally afraid of new things so you may have to serve the same food several times before your child takes a taste. "If your child refuses a food like mashed sweet potato or mashed avocado, simply take it away and try the same food again a few days later," suggests Krieger. "Try to keep meals happy and peaceful for your child by staying calm, avoiding begging your child to eat, and letting him or her set the pace for eating."
Once your child has progressed to table foods, serve dishes with seasonings that are part of your family food culture such as cinnamon, curry powder, chili powder, cilantro, or garlic. Avoid highly spicy seasonings that could irritate the mouth or tongue such as cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce until your child is a bit older. Also, keep salt to a minimum so that your child gets used to the natural flavors of unsalted or lightly salted foods.