Aug. 9, 2011 -- Want to instill in your child a love of vegetables? Start early. Very early.
New research by the Monell Chemical Senses Center finds mothers can influence a baby's palate and food memories before it is born. The study finds that what a woman eats during her pregnancy shapes the baby's food preferences later in life.
In the womb, the baby is surrounded and nourished on the amniotic fluid, which is filled with the flavors of what the mom has eaten.
"Things like vanilla, carrot, garlic, anise, mint -- these are some of the flavors that have been shown to be transmitted to amniotic fluid or mother's milk," Julie Mennella, a researcher at Monell, told National Public Radio.
The babies are feasting on the flavored amniotic fluid, forming memories of these flavors even before birth. These memories result in preferences for these foods or odors for a lifetime.
For example, eating broccoli while pregnant means there's a better chance your baby will like broccoli more than another baby would, whose mother did not eat broccoli.
Very early exposure to flavors, before and after birth, and reinforcement of those flavors make it more likely that children will accept a wide variety of flavors.
Researchers say this helps explain why kids from countries with more adventurous menus enjoy more diverse foods than a child exposed to American peanut butter and jelly and chicken nuggets.
The lesson: If you want your children to eat a healthy diet or more adventurous diet, you should expose them to all the right, healthy flavors early on. Very early on.