Kids Have a Sweet Tooth, But a Salt Lovin’ Tongue

French fries, chicken nuggets and tater tots, oh my!  The diet preferences of many toddlers can make even the sanest parent lose her cool every now and then. Just try persuading a 2-year old to eat Brussels sprouts and suddenly a very talkative toddler seems to have had his jaw wired shut. There’s no way that green stuff will be eaten. Why, oh why, will kids eagerly gobble up some foods and completely reject others? A new study suggests it really does come down to taste.

The taste of salt, that is. In this study, researchers compared how much of a food toddlers would eat when salt, fat and sugar content was altered. Only when salt content was increased did the kids eat more of the food. It could be that we’re all born with a natural predisposition for salty foods, or that early exposure to salty foods quickly develops into a preference. Either way, here are some strategies to help get a healthy diet into even the most stubborn toddler.

  • While salt should be used sparingly, adding a little to veggies may make them appeal to kids.
  • Use herbs and spices usually associated with salty foods to entice your little ones.
  • Watch out for processed “toddler foods,” which tend to be high in salt and sugar as reported earlier.
  • Since more sugar and fat did not seem to increase how much kids ate, these components can likely be reduced in your tot’s favorite foods without any change in preference.
  • Lead by example. If you expect your kid to eat his veggies, you better be getting your leafy greens too.
  • Involve your child in age-appropriate cooking activities.
  • Continue to offer healthy options along with your child’s favorites. It can take 20 exposures (or more) for a child to accept a new food.
  • Don’t battle with your tot, as it will just make mealtime more stressful and create a resentful feeding relationship.
  • Try to remember this rule: the parent decides when and what foods to offer. The child decides which and how much of each food to eat.
  • If all else fails, you can try hiding healthy foods in your kid’s favorite meals, a la Jessica Seinfeld.
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