Some very interesting research was recently released regarding heredity and bitterness as it relates to “taste.” The funny thing is that no one generally needs a study to tell parents that getting children to eat that which is unfamiliar to them can be a chore. Heck, I’m a grown man and getting me to eat that which is unfamiliar can be a chore! And as I was reading the research, a portion got me thinking about just that, the “unfamiliar.” Though the genetic component was equally intriguing.
I am a terrible slave to habit when it comes to food. I’m that individual who can eat at the same restaurant, ordering and consuming with delight the same dish, weeks at a time. I like what I like and that made me happy… until I had mini-me’s! My children have picked up that personality trait and are creatures of habit almost to the extent that I am. The interesting thing though is that I’ve always noticed that when it came to vegetables, so long as they had a “dip” they were familiar with they were more likely to try something new. Enter: Offering Dip Promotes Intake in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Those doing the study offered up a term I’d never heard of before: child neophobia. According to the study, “child neophobia” is defined as: a trait-like avoidance of novel and unfamiliar foods. Yep, that sounds about right. My youngest son puts ranch and Worcestershire sauce on just about anything he can consume and my eldest two will eat more than just raw carrots so long as there is dip available. I really enjoyed reading the study because I found that it actually confirmed much of the behavior I’ve seen in my own household.
On the other hand, the study did make me feel somewhat bad about forcing certain foods on the kids. I want them to eat healthy and I can’t say that I’ve been the most compassionate dad when it comes to requiring my children to eat veggies amid their complaints of, “dad, this tastes gross!” Now, having some training in biological psychology, I should know better that much of the perception that accompanies our olfactory senses is subjective. I was given a stark reminder of that fact when I read that bitterness itself appears to have a link to heredity and then performed a similar taste test in my own home using taste tester strips which produce either a truly awful bitter taste, slightly bad taste, or just a plain paper taste. My wife and son tasted paper, but me, my daughter and youngest son’s faces all pruned up like we’d bitten into a lemon that wasn’t quite ripe yet. Oh, and it was BAD. Like, I needed some cream soda to wash away the taste, bad (though that also makes a great excuse for a nice cold mug of the frothy beverage).
So, what I walked away with here is that though there was some great information in this study, it really just reinforced what I see in my own household already. Kids who don’t like trying new things will try them if there’s something familiar and veggie dip can be just that for your little ones a familiar flavor to help move them into trying something new. I will however, take it a little easier next time one of my kids says, “ewwww, that tastes nasty.” Maybe it’s hereditary, maybe it isn’t but in case it is, I’ll allow a little more leeway in the future for dealing with that.
I have been compensated to participate in the Hidden Valley Ranch “Love Your Veggies” parent panel and throughout the year will be posting content pertaining to getting your family (and especially those kids) to eat their veggies. It’s for a great cause and it’s all about healthy habits but in the interest of transparency and full-disclosure, these posts will always be clearly labeled.