THURSDAY, Dec. 28, 2017 -- Exposing young children to a wide range of healthy foods when they're young can help instill good eating habits, researchers report.
They added that even if it's a struggle, parents shouldn't give up.
To arrive at that conclusion, the investigators reviewed 40 studies on how infants and young children develop a taste for healthy foods, especially vegetables and fruits.
The key is to repeatedly expose them to a variety of healthy foods during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood, the review found.
During pregnancy, the flavors of a mother's diet "reach the child in utero, so if she's eating a healthy diet, the fetus does get exposed to those flavors, getting the child used to them," said study author Stephanie Anzman-Frasca. She's an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the University at Buffalo in New York.
Breast-feeding also provides infants with exposure to the flavors of healthy foods.
After infancy, repeated exposure to healthy foods that children previously shunned can help them develop a taste for those foods, according to the researchers.
"This method of simply repeating the child's exposure to healthy foods has a robust evidence base behind it," Anzman-Frasca said in a university news release. "There are many studies with preschoolers who start out not liking red peppers or squash, for example, but after five to six sessions where these foods are repeatedly offered, they end up liking them," she said.
"Overall, based on all the studies we reviewed, our strongest recommendation to parents and caregivers is, 'don't give up!'" Anzman-Frasca concluded.
The findings were published Dec. 20 in the journal Obesity Reviews.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on childhood nutrition.
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