According to recent studies conducted in Europe, introducing young babies to a wide array of vegetables early on is the best way to get them to enjoy healthier options.
Eating vegetables is always important, especially if you’re a baby. When babies start sampling solid foods, new research shows that giving them a grander assortment of different vegetables will make them more likely to enjoy newer varieties when offered.
These studies were conducted in the UK, Greece and Portugal and show the incredible importance of introducing more than just a few vegetables. The UK study was led by the University College London (UCL). There were two groups of babies. One was the control group, fed as normal and the other was called the intervention group where parents were to give five different vegetables in a rotation that lasted over 15 days. The parents were instructed to offer a range of colors and flavors and to focus on green vegetables. They were also told not to mix any vegetables together or with other items.
Once this period passed, the parents in both groups were told to introduce other foods as they would typically do. When researchers visited the families, they gave the babies a puree of artichoke. Interestingly, artichoke was selected because it is never produced in commercially-produced baby food so the likelihood of a child having eaten it prior to the study would be extremely low. The babies in the intervention group were much more likely to eat the puree and enjoyed it as well.
Sarah McMullen, the head of research and quality at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) said, “Food preferences can develop in very early life and getting babies off to a good start with healthy nutrition and eating habits can have lifelong benefits.”
This research helps gives parents more guidance. The main message for parents to take from studies like this is that introducing a wide variety of vegetables from sweet-tasting corn or sweet potatoes to bitter broccoli is essential during the time when weaning is taking place, as children are learning to eat food more than breast milk or formula.
Meanwhile in Portugal and Greece, when the same study was conducted, there was little difference. The control group in Portugal liked the artichoke as much as the intervention group. According to Dr. Alison Fildes, a research psychologist at UCL, it’s because the control group babies were already getting vegetables as their first food. “What’s typical in Portugal is that mothers make their own vegetable soups and these are common weaning foods. Portuguese school children actually have some of the highest vegetable intakes in Europe and this might explain why.”
The reason for the vast difference between these two studies is likely because in the UK, it is common to mix vegetables with a bit of fruit to sweeten up the taste. This is done in homemade as well as commercially-produced baby food. A popular combination is broccoli and pear. Dr. Fildes stated that while they are certainly more likely to eat the broccoli and pear puree because it is sweeter, “but they aren’t actually learning to like that food.”