Amandine Lalanne, Nutrition Science and Dietary Behavior Expert at Blédina, demystifies the science behind babies' food taste.
How does a child develop its sense of taste?
It all starts in the womb, with the formation of the first taste buds. From the fifth month of pregnancy, the foetus learns the difference between sweet, salty, bitter and acid by "drinking" the liquid in the mother's amniotic sac, the taste of which depends on her own diet. Recent figures show that a flavor experienced in utero can affect the way in which the child subsequently reacts to it. When born, a baby's taste system is already mature! But they continue to perfect it via their experiences as they grow. The family environment will therefore greatly affect their preferences.
Are there key stages in the way we learn taste?
After birth, between 6 and 12 months, the child becomes physiologically able to swallow things other than milk. Their taste receptors are more mature and more sensitive. And at this age, the baby is also very curious. These are all factors that encourage them to learn how to discover and accept new things. It is therefore a very important period for learning about taste. Especially because, for fruit and vegetables, the greater the variety of foodstuffs introduced at the start of the variation stage, the more positive the child's reaction to them later on. We need to take advantage of this! But it's not always easy: this "window" of opportunity is narrow 6 months - 1 year) and we must not forget the seasons: a European baby born in spring will start to vary its diet in winter when there are less fruits to try than for a December baby whose variation begins in June!
How do you take into account babies' tastes?
Nowadays we have a very accurate map of infant nutritional requirements: at each age, we know exactly what the baby needs in terms of nutrients. However, we are still lacking information when it comes to their tastes. We know only that sensory education must start young, be varied and, when a baby is offered a carrot, it's best that it looks like a carrot! We are therefore working very hard to ensure our products are as close as possible in terms of smell, appearance etc. to the raw ingredients used in the recipe. We are also working on textures: it is important to teach a baby how to eat thicker and thicker foods and to start them on small morsels in order to help them develop a chewing action. Finally, we adjust the nutritional content of our meals to the age of the child. Every day therefore, we are working on achieving an ideal balance between taste, enjoyment and nutrition.
Can a child become a gourmet expert?
Parents make the mistake of comparing their own tastes to those of their child and forget that we each, in fact, experience food based on our own lives and experiences. For a baby, who has only had milk for the first 6 months of its life, everything is new, everything is original! We now know that infants are able to tell even very similar flavours apart. In addition, before 12 months it is not recommended to add extra sugar or salt. For older babies, it's different. Physiologically, they are more robust and their kidneys better able to filter out salt. And, more importantly, their food environment is totally different since they have begun to share the table with their parents and eat the same foods as them.
That's when babies start to compare tastes! You can't therefore keep giving them the same meals as before. They're allowed to try more sophisticated recipes, with small amounts of salt.
Surely, you still believe that nothing beats home-made ?
Parents who prepare all of the meals for her child is making a personal investment: she does it from love, and enjoys it, and passes down the family culinary traditions. It's no mean feat! But some mothers don't like to cook, or don't always have the time to cook. And let us not forget it's not always easy to cook varied and balanced meals for your baby. But that doesn't make you a bad mother! In this case, they know that, without creating any risk for their child, they can turn to pre-prepared baby food. It is the next best thing to home-made meals, unlike industrial ready-meals for adults which are not at all suitable for babies and toddlers. But let's not see baby food versus home-made meals as such a black and white affair: both types of food complement each other. We also provide those mums who do want to cook with a few essential rules to follow: buy products with low food miles, grown using sustainable methods, wash and peel fruit and vegetables and check ingredients and quantities.