Our dietary preferences are influenced by multiple factors, such as characteristics of the individual, properties of the food or the environment. Specifically, concerning the development of children, adequate amounts of nutrients should be met, which can be provided through the consumption of a variety of foods and food products. Although humans seem to be born with preferences and aversions to certain flavours, such as repulsion to bitter, that has genetic origins, there are plenty of other factors that influence children's food choices.
Neophobia, which is described as the unwillingness of children to consume “new” foods, especially fruit and vegetables, begins from the time of weaning and peaks at 2-6 years of age. After that point, it gradually decreases, until it becomes stable and lasts through adulthood. However, the technique of simple exposure seems to effect positively on the avoidance of neophobia. It has been shown that 10 consequent days of exposure to a vegetable increases the acceptance of it, but also decreases unwillingness to try more vegetables. Repeated exposure to a particular flavour increases preference and acceptance. Additionally, the technique of being exposed to a new flavour through an already accepted one is an effective solution. When an initially neutral flavour is combined with one that is accepted/preferred by the child, it increases its willingness to consume it, even when it is presented alone.
Some practical advice for parents would be to encourage children to help with grocery shopping, the preparation of meals and cooking. Furthermore, it would be better to give the child the opportunity to choose, for example by asking “Do you want lettuce or cabbage for salad?”, instead of strictly imposing what the meal will consist of. It is important to always present one new food at a time, and always accompanied by an already accepted one. Another smart “trick” would be to offer the new food at the beginning of the meal, when the child is hungrier. Also, discussing with your children about food is more beneficial than you might think. Preschoolers know a lot about food and have an opinion. Describe them the texture, the taste, the scent, this will make them keener to try. Colours and designs are always interesting to children, why not in their meals? You can make a plate more attractive by arranging its fruit or vegetable content in such a way as to create a face, for example. Moreover, avoid being oppressive, as it has been shown that this behaviour not only does not bring the desired results, but it might increase the child’s aversion to the specific food. Finally, and most importantly, remember that you are a role model for your children, and they are more likely to consume a food when they notice that it is consumed by the rest of the family.