Fussy eating behaviour – which is characterised by a limited dietary variety due to the frequent rejection of familiar and unfamiliar food items – is common in young children and a constant headache for parents. Often, it’s vegetables that offspring will regularly turn their noses up at.
However, researchers at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and the Nestlé Research Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, believe they know how to ensure kids are easier to please. Children offered vegetables before the age of five months were “particularly less likely to be fussy eaters”, noted the team in their paper for the journal Appetite.
Go for greens early
The team examined the links between infant feeding and fussy eating amongst 4,779 participants in the generation R study – an ongoing population-based prospective cohort study from foetal life until adulthood. They looked at the duration of breastfeeding and the timing of complementary feeding (when solid foods are first introduced).
When children reached the age of four, parents were also asked to fill out the Children’s Eating Behaviour Questionnaire, which includes the food fussiness scale. The scale consists of six items assessing whether children are difficult to please with meals, display food neophobia (for example, “My child refuses new foods at first”), or have a limited diet variety. A higher score indicates increased fussiness.
The experts had expected to find differences in fussy eating between children who were never breastfed and those who were breastfed for prolonged periods of time. This wasn’t the case, though: children that were never breastfed did not appear to differ in fussy eating from children breastfed for at least six months.
However, they also discovered that “earlier introduction of vegetables was related to less fussy eating behaviour. Particularly children who were already introduced to vegetables between four and five months had a lower food fussiness score than children who were introduced to vegetables at six months or later,” they noted.
It was a similar story for fruits or any solids, although the trend was not as strong and “not statistically significant”.
Like (fussy) father, like (fussy) son
Of course, one explanation for this could be that the fussy children have fussy parents who are less likely to introduce veg early on. However, the findings merit further investigation, the team suggested. Indeed, a cohort study in France has also shown that weaning is a crucial stage in the development of taste preferences.
The research also adds to the current discussion regarding guidelines for the timing of complementary feeding in developed countries. Studies have suggested early introduction of solids can increase the risk of obesity, but research published in May last year found no such link.
“Infant feeding and child fussy eating: The Generation R Study”
Authors: Lisanne M. de Barse, et al.