When I talk to pediatricians I tell them the same thing I’m about to tell you: The most important thing parents can do when they’re introducing solids is think about VARIETY.
Yes, I tell pediatricians to change how they advise parents. I say, skip the go-slow, introduce-one-food-and-wait-three-days approach.
The go-slow approach DOESN’T prevent allergies, but it does teach a style of eating that is counterproductive.
Read one of my favorite studies in Early Vegetable Variety: The French Advantage.
Exposure to a variety of vegetables, rather than repeated exposure to a single vegetables, not only encourages acceptance of new vegetables, it also encourages acceptance of other new foods.
That’s because, teaching kids to eat a variety of foods teaches them a mindset: I eat different foods from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day.
(In contrast, the go-slow approach teaches a different mindset: It’s normal to eat the same foods from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day.)
Here’s the study: 30 infants, all being introduced to vegetables for the first time.
The infants were all between 4 and 6 months old, divided into two groups.
- One group was given carrots every day for for 10 days. This was the Single Exposure Group.
- One group was given a rotation of parsnip, zucchini and sweet potato for 10 days. This was the Variety Group.
- On the 11th day, all the babies were given peas.
Who ate more peas? The Variety Group.
Actually, it turns out that for babies weaned before 6 months old, it didn’t seem to matter whether they were in the single exposure group or the variety group.
However, if the babies were around 6 months old, being in the variety group had a BIG effect.
Notice that color is one element of variety incorporated into the Variety Group.
Rotating the color of foods has been found to be one of the most effective patterns for exposure to variety.
So don’t get “stuck” in the same-color-food rut!
Here’s the takeaway: Once babies are about 6 months old, variety really matters. And there’s no downside.
Even though variety didn’t have a big effect on new vegetable consumption for young babies, variety did matter for older babies. And since all young babies turn into older babies, it makes sense to introduce variety from the get-go.
There is NO downside to introducing variety early…especially if we’re talking fruits and vegetables which are not highly allergenic. But even if they were, read Peanuts, Eggs and Shellfish Before Age One.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Source: Coulthard, H., G. Harris, and A. Fogel. 2014. “Exposure to Vegetable Variety in Infants Weaned At Different Ages.” Appetite 78C: 89-94.