As the owner of Yummy Tuckers I have over the past 2 and half years picked up a few good pointers with regards to getting your Toddlers to eat healthy food. This has come mainly through being a parent to two little boys of ages 4 and 5 and my professional relationships via my business with nutrition professionals and the daycare industry. The first pointer I can give out is be patient don’t beat yourself up ……It’s Not Easy……….!

Nature has given us some wonderful mechanisms through which we have been able to evolve and survive for as long as we have. One of these mechanisms is to give infants a preference for certain tastes and a non-preference/ dislike for others. For example an aversion to sour bitter tasting foods helped us avoid toxic poisonous plants back in the day when we were hunter gatherers and a preference for sweet things helps babies with breast milk as it is a naturally sweet. There is also a liking for salty things in kids a reason for which has not yet been established.

So these mechanisms are still in our DNA today and determine our actions around learning what to eat, giving us, as infants a predisposition to eating foods with a ‘familiar’ taste as a built in safety mechanism thus preventing us from eating unsafe foods. So this would in turn help explain why introducing new foods with different tastes colours and textures to children is a difficult and challenging affair as we are battling nature’s safety switch !

Our learning about food starts as a baby when we are experiencing flavours of food that our mothers have eaten via their breast milk. Babies use this subtle information to learn lifelong taste preferences. The faint flavours of breast milk are telling them which foods are safe and nutritious i.e. if Mum has eaten these foods and survived, these foods have passed the test!  Nature has given babies a valuable tool for learning to like safe and nutritious foods which will be part of their diets in upcoming years.

So you can see our children are forming food habits from the get go, but it’s been established that the greatest period of influence over food preferences is between the ages of one ,when we come off the breast milk and 4 years of age……Toddlers.

Apart from our built in safety networks and predispositions we learn and acquire our food preferences through repetition. Studies have determined that kids will prefer the flavours that are most familiar to them, so by offering the children healthy nourishing food all the time they will learn to like the taste of them and therefore have a preference for them. This can take between 15 and 20 repetitions to establish.

In the same vein if you are continually offering your child sweet options or salty foods, which, as we have determined, they already are pre disposed to liking, then they will continually crave these things and so the habits form. Just so happens that the processed junk foods that are marketed to us continually are full of sugar and salt …….funny that!! So the responsibility is on us to provide an environment where healthy foods are continually on offer.

Children will also rely on other cues to determine whether they are going to like something these being visual and smell so positive reinforcement of these via books, songs, fresh fruit smells home cooking smells, fresh herb smells etc will also help determine a positive perception of healthy food.

In summary the determination of whether a Toddler will eat healthy foods or not is basically down to us the parents. The responsibility is ours to surround the child with healthy foods and give them the appropriate food environment to learn and form habits from. Don’t give them over processed packaged junk food full of colours, preservatives, sugars, fats and salt do give them fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and wholegrain foods with lots of variety. Keep your resolve in doing this, and it will pay you and you children back in dividends.