How baby food could be turning kids into picky eaters

Sep 1, 2015 at 11:07 a.m. ET
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If your baby's diet revolves around fruit and vegetables, you might certainly think you've got the whole "health and nutrition" thing well covered.

But it may not be as simple as "fruits and vegetables in, a future of healthy eating out." While most commercial baby foods do feature a wide variety of produce, a new study out of the University of Glasgow shows that the predominant baby food options all feature very sweet foods. When the researchers looked at 329 of the major brands' baby foods, they found the most common ingredients mentioned were apple, banana, tomato, mango, carrot and sweet potato. Green veggies rarely made the cut.

Of course, most fruits are by their nature on the sugary side, but even when it comes to vegetables, starchy and sweet choices are the most common ones: carrots, potatoes, squash, tomatoes. So what babies aren't getting a taste for is the bitter green stuff like broccoli or beans or greens. The problem there? Those funky green veggies help meet a lot of important nutritional needs, and if kids don't develop a taste for them early, they might have a lot of trouble learning to eat them later on.

More: 5 Fun ways to turn mealtime into a nutrition lesson

Realistically, not very many 8-month-olds are going to be jumping at the chance to eat a carton of creamed spinach over one of sweet potatoes, which is precisely why the options on the market skew to the sweet side: Companies sell what parents want to buy, and parents want to buy foods that are less likely to end up spewed on the kitchen wall. But the gap in the market for bitter green vegetables means that many babies will go through their formative food period without being exposed to those particular flavors, and that in turn means those children won't have the opportunity to learn to enjoy (or at least tolerate) the taste of broccoli and bok choy. And introducing those flavors earlier on might just be part of the puzzle to staving off at least some degree of childhood picky eating.

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These findings are undoubtedly more of an issue for poor and working-class families, who are locked into certain baby food choices via what's offered via WIC or who don't have the time, money or kitchen equipment for making baby food from scratch to be an option. But if you are lucky enough to have a) time, b) access to vegetables and c) a blender or food processor, then making your own food can be a good way to introduce your baby to the full spectrum of food flavors.

Chopped, cooked broccoli or spinach plus a little breast milk or formula in the blender, and you've got your very own Gerber knockoff. Not as convenient as what comes in the little cartons, but if you've got more time on the weekend, you can always make a big batch and freeze it in an ice cube tray for a convenient serving-size storage option. Older infants may even be able to handle tiny pieces of well-cooked veggies once they have a functional pincer grasp.

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The only downside, of course, is that introducing new flavors to a baby also means introducing them to your floor and walls. Another investment you may want to make besides a sturdy blender? A good steam mop.