"My mother always tells me stories of how she ate the healthiest ever in her entire life while she was pregnant with me. I tried to do the same when I was pregnant with my own children." Dr. Amy Sapola
Besides the fact that it is an important time to nourish yourself and your growing baby, food preferences start before birth! If you want your child to like vegetables, eating a wide variety while pregnant may actually help your child develop a taste for them.
A baby’s taste buds form between 8-17 weeks of gestation because, while in the mother's uterus, the baby is swallowing amniotic fluid, which contains flavors from the mother's diet. The same goes for breastfeeding: tastes from the mother's diet are passed along to the baby in breastmilk. One related study found that babies nurse longer and ingest more breastmilk from mothers who have eaten garlic.
Introducing Vegetables to Baby and Toddlers
Then comes introducing food, which can be daunting. Feeding children whole nutrient-dense foods is not always the easiest or often fastest option, but it also does not need to be overly complicated.
First, think of how you feed yourself. Making a family meal and then deconstructing it into foods that a baby or toddler can eat is a great way to save time and help children become accustomed to enjoying the same meal as their family.
Avoid plant-based processed meat, vegetable puffs, and fat-free baby food in jars or pouches because they may be highly processed, low in nutrients, and higher in sugar. Stick with nutrient-dense vegetables such as green peas, squash, edamame, leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and broccoli. Using garlic, onions, and herbs is another way to help shape taste preferences by adding flavor and nutrients to meals.
Once you’ve selected the nutrient-dense vegetables for your meal, think about how you will prepare them. Many of us have memories of overcooked, flavorless, mushy vegetables from childhood. This is unnecessary and avoidable for our children.
- When cutting up vegetables, ensure that you cut them into approximately equal-sized pieces so that they will cook evenly.
- When introducing foods, go easy on the salt and spices. Although you can easily cook the same meal for everyone, you may consider going lighter on salt and spices for babies and toddlers than you would for yourself.
- Consider roasting vegetables on a sheet pan with olive oil, avocado oil, or butter. Roasting is easy and delicious and helps to retain the nutrients in vegetables that could otherwise be lost if boiled. Adding fat helps with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- If you steam vegetables, steam them lightly until the color becomes nice and bright. This is another great way to maintain nutrients.
- Crockpots are one of my favorite kitchen appliances. Putting vegetables in a crockpot in the morning along with beans, meat, and so forth seasoned with vegetable broth, garlic, and/or herbs results in an easy, nourishing, nutrient-dense meal after a long day.
- Textures are important. Having a variety of textures in a meal exposes children to different mouth feels, sensations, and levels of chewing.
- Include the skin or peel when possible. The skin or peel of vegetables if grown without the use of chemicals is great to consume as it is one of the most nutrient-dense parts of the plant. I recommend washing the vegetables and then, for example, serving carrots without peeling them and leaving the skins on potatoes.
- Eat the rainbow. Children love color and making mealtime colorful can add an element of creativity and also provides a wider range of phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
More About Children and Vegetables
It is important to think about raising children to enjoy vegetables as a long-term goal. Much of how we feed children today is about short-term quick solutions and concessions based on time and marketing without considering the long-term impact on health and longevity.
Looking for more cooking tips, guidance on preparation, and recipe inspiration? I highly recommend visiting the Food First Database where you can find a wealth of information.
Our Eat The Rainbow Vegetable Box is a fun way to receive a variety of colorful, nutrient-dense vegetables that children will love—delivered right to your door. This box will inspire creativity and experimentation with trying new vegetables that are different textures, tastes, and colors, plus it’s packed full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. Our vegetables are grown on a small regenerative family farm in Ohio, picked fresh, and shipped directly to you.