Children and vegetables are often not the best of friends. But new research has shown how you can help babies learn to like veg – by introducing veg at the very beginning of weaning.
Why it’s veg from Day 1
Did you know that we’re all born with an innate preference for certain flavours? No surprises that two of them are sweet and salty. The other one is something called ‘umami’, which is a savoury taste. We’re also naturally not so keen on sour and bitter flavours.¹
That’s why newly weaning babies will often devour a mashed banana or some pureed apple, but clamp their mouths shut if they’re offered broccoli or spinach.
We all know how disheartening this can be when you’ve spent hours batch-cooking vegetable purees. It can also put you off persevering with these savoury tastes.
But a overview study by the British Nutrition Foundation has shown that yes, it really is worth persevering.
Researchers independently reviewed key scientific weaning studies and concluded that the earlier you start giving babies vegetables, the more likely the children are to accept veg during weaning and into later childhood.
In one University of Leeds study, researchers found that babies can quickly develop a taste for even strongly flavoured vegetables.
How babies ate artichoke…
The researchers gave pureed artichoke to children aged 6 months to 38 months on 5 to 10 separate occasions, and discovered that once they’d got used to the taste, the younger babies ate more of the puree than the older ones. And that’s artichoke.
And while many babies may naturally eat fruit more enthusiastically than veg, research² shows that they don’t need to eat much of a food at each sitting to start liking it – a mouthful or two is all that’s needed.
“Babies are born with a sweet tooth because breast milk has a slightly sweet flavour, so it helps to reduce that if you can give stronger, more bitter flavours,” says Claire Baseley, consultant infant nutritionist. “It’s super important to try to introduce little ones to savoury veg, such as broccoli and cauliflower, every day during the first weeks of weaning.”
So why is it so important for your baby to eat veg?
Poor veg eating is a national issue. UK stats show that children and adults alike don’t eat enough fruit and veg, and in 2013, the Health Education Survey for England found that only 19 per cent of children aged five to 10 had eaten their five-a-day on the previous day.
The pattern can be set by what your baby eats while weaning. Research has shown that babies who don’t eat much fruit and veg in the first year are less likely to eat enough of them at the age of six.³
So why so early?
Research has also shown that between the ages of 6 to 9 months, there’s a golden window to introduce new flavours and lots of different veg. This is because babies are receptive to new tastes until around 10 months when they can become fussier – making it much more challenging to introduce new foods at this point.* Cue head turning, mouth clamping and food splats on the floor, door and dog.
But don’t be discouraged if your early attempts to introduce veg are unsuccessful. “It can take up to 10 tries for a baby to get used to a new flavour, so don’t be disheartened by initial rejection,” says Claire.
Should you give veg only when you start weaning?
Further research is still needed into whether you should only give your baby veg to start with, or whether it’s fine to give veg alongside fruit.
But there is some evidence of a benefit: one study showed that babies who initially eat only veg have a 38% higher vegetable intake at 12 months old.
However it appeared to be a fairly short term effect. By 23 months, there was no difference in the amount of vegetables eaten by babies who were weaned on veg-only compared with those who’d had a mixed diet.
Ultimately, it’s your choice. What does matter is that you introduce vegetables right from day 1 of weaning. And even if your baby is less than enthusiastic at first, keep going – you could be helping them to a lifelong love of peppers, spinach, and yes, artichokes.
10 tasty veg for early weaning
- Butternut squash
- Sweet potato
- Green beans
References: ¹ Beauchamp and Menella, 2009, ² Cooke et al, 2007, ³ Grimm et al, 2014, * Lange et al, 2013