A Cookbook for Budding Taste Buds

New parents are famously fixated on potty training, but there’s another aspect of your child’s development that merits equal attention: palate training.

Our food preferences as adults are largely determined by what we ate as infants, according to a new British study. Psychologists found that children build up a “visual prototype” of foods they like and will reject unfamiliar foods without even tasting them simply because they don’t resemble a child’s favorite foods.

The study showed that getting infants to try a wide range of foods, including fruits and vegetables, increases their preference for those foods in later life.

“Parents should give their children the same food that they are eating provided it is a balanced diet containing fruits and vegetables, to introduce them to new colors, textures and shapes,” suggests Dr. Gillian Harris, a clinical psychologist at the University of Birmingham.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee conducted a similar study and reached the same conclusion. According to the September 2004 issue of American Baby magazine, the researchers determined that “70% of food preferences were established by age two.”

So if you’ve got toddlers at your table, or have a baby due soon, I urge you to get a copy of The Petit Appetit Cookbook: Easy, Organic Recipes to Nurture Your Baby and Toddler, in which author Lisa Barnes shows how simple it is to make wholesome baby foods using fresh ingredients. Barnes is the founder of a cooking service for infants and toddlers in San Francisco, Petit Appetit, which provides new parents with a healthy, tasty alternative to mass-produced baby foods.

Barnes’ recipes, all taste tested by her son Jonas, were created “to empower you, not intimidate you.” But this book offers far more than just child-approved purees and easy entrees. Barnes explains the many benefits of making homemade blends instead of buying commercially jarred baby foods, and provides plenty of advice and encouragement to inspire new parents who may be novices in the kitchen as well as the nursery.

The Petit Appetit Cookbook also has the latest nutritional information on such issues as mercury in fish, food allergies, GMO’s, and food safety. There’s a chapter devoted to organic food, with “Six Tips on How to Shop Wisely and Save Money when Buying Organic,” which includes buying in season, shopping at farmers’ markets, and growing your own.

Barnes points out that bringing kids to a “pick your own” farm and letting them see firsthand how food is grown can inspire children to eat more fruits and vegetables. She also has some great ideas for ways to interact with your child while you cook in a chapter on “Parenting in the Kitchen.”

I bought this book for a friend who’s expecting, but I can’t give it to her till I’ve copied the recipe for homemade graham crackers. Come to think of it, the Celebration Cupcakes and Multigrain Scones sound really good, too, as do the Crunchy Frozen Bananas, which were inspired by a recipe on a box of Cheerios. The Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya tempts me, and so do Mrs. Barne’s Fish Sticks.

Guess I’d better pick up a second copy, because this one’s already on its way to becoming secondhand.

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