If your kid is turning her nose up at broccoli, you can thank Mother Nature.
Turns out that veggie aversion is rooted not in fussiness, but in physiology. Children, though smaller than us in every way, actually outsize us when it comes to our taste buds. They’ve got a whole lot more of them – as many as three times.
This difference has been the cause of kitchen-table standoffs for generations, as kids refuse their vegetables and parents pursue creative and sometimes desperate measures to get their kids to Please … just … take … one … bite.
“It’s just stressful, trying to eat right and cooking for them,” one frustrated mom told us. “You can just tell it’s coming – the negotiations, the fights.”
But with a little understanding of how veggies taste when hitting tiny taste buds, we may be able to turn those potential standoffs into standing ovations, or – let’s be realistic – fairly clean plates.
Let’s look into this natural difference between how grownups and children taste, and some simple ways to get kids to like veggies for life.
Rules of Three
First, let’s all get on the same page about what taste buds are. They aren’t those little bumps on our tongues – those are papillae. It’s the papillae that hold taste buds, which transmit to our brains what foods taste like.
Babies have up to 30,000 of these crazy buds – three times the number as adults. This is for good reason. Babies’ taste buds are actual buddies, alerting them to what is good and not good for them. Most of their taste buds are aligned to send happy messages when experiencing high-fat, sweet foods that will help them grow, such as milk. Certain foods, such as vegetables, may overwhelm their palates.
The good new is this tongue transmission changes with time. As babies grow, their taste buds are replaced regularly – every two weeks in fact. In the process, the number of taste buds declines, but the kid may still have negative associations with vegetables. This is what we want to prevent!
Secret Sauce: The Veggie Fix
Getting kids to love veggies for life takes understanding, and it also takes good timing. The best way to fix the situation is to nip it at the bud (sorry). Following are a few tips to getting there:
- Start early and often: Researchers say it can take 15 tries before a baby likes a new food. One way to reduce the number: Introduce babes to solid foods first thing in the morning or after a nap. Also, use a lot of variety – a new food every day is a good idea.
- Empower the child: Let the kids choose the evening’s meal, as long as it includes one nutritious veggie they will eat. Look at cooking magazines together so they see lots of pictures of veggies and healthy foods. Be sure they know the names of every veggie you bring home at a young age – kids relate better to things they recognize.
- Leonardo Da Veggie: Invite the kids to be creative in the kitchen. Ask them to wash the veggies and (if old enough) to help cut them. Once the food is prepared, kids can garnish the plates by creating pictures or decorations with the veggies. Chances are they will want to see you enjoy them and will join in.
Most important, watch closely and pay attention. With taste buds changing every two weeks, babies are experience regular palate shifts. Have the veggies ready, and thank Mother Nature.