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Flavor Training, The Eating Journey

Important News for Babies Approaching 4 months old

4 months of age signals the start of an exciting window of opportunity, that if taken advantage of has the ability to not only transform your parenting journey (and family mealtimes) going forward, but more importantly, your child’s health and wellness potentials for life. 4 months marks the important opportunity to start ‘Flavour Training’!  

It is no secret that infants have a natural preference for sweet (sweet breast milk, sweet formula, even sweet medicines!) and an aversion to bitter (many leafy greens and vegetables)(13). The good news is, however, these taste preferences are proven to be malleable. Between 4 and 7 months, a 'Flavor Training' window of opportunity opens where infants are remarkably receptive to a wide range of tastes and very open to trying almost anything (providing you with some incredibly funny faces in the process!)(2-3)(5)(7)(11). 

By capitalizing on this 4-7 month window of opportunity to experience a wide variety of individual vegetable flavors, on multiple occasions, we can start to lay the foundations for familiarity and acceptance for these foods(6)(12-13)(15)(19)(21-22). In doing so, we can set babies' palate on a healthy path of acceptance and preference for a diet rich in nutrients and packed with fresh vegetables before cravings for chicken nuggets and french fries. It is your opportunity to establish healthy eating preferences from the very beginning and to foster positive eating habits that can last a lifetime(1)(8-10)(14)(16-17)(18)(20).

Not to be confused with 'starting solids' or 'complementary feeding,' Flavor Training begins before babies need nutrition beyond breastmilk or formula. Flavor training is a time for exposure, exploration, experimentation without the stress of 'feeding.' They may only swallow a minuscule amount of food; a 'taste' is all that is required. So have some fun, get messy, and get the camera ready!

Here are few points to consider for successful Flavor Training. 

  • ‘Flavor Training’ is from around 4 months and is not intended to provide nutrition or replace breast milk or formula. Rather ‘Flavour Training’ is the deliberate, repetitive exposure of a very small amount of flavor, a dab of food on a clean finger or teaspoon is all it requires.
  • Variety is king. Flavor training should include vegetables spanning the whole flavour spectrum, with a particular focus on the bitter, umami and sour profiles. Babies have a natural preference for sweet (apple sauce) and salty so these flavors should not be a focus at this time. Savoury sweet vegetables (squash, carrots, sweet potato) are ok if balanced with a healthy exposure to bitter (broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts), umami (asparagus, avocado, eggplant) and sour (tart fruits such as lemons, limes, cranberries).
  • Don't be put off by funny faces!(12) A taste is all that it takes.
  • Purees should be single vegetables, i.e. a bitter vegetable (e.g. broccoli) should not be masked with a sweeter vegetable (e.g. carrot)(19). The success of flavor training lies in the exposure to a wide range of flavour profiles, and especially those that take a little getting used to.
  • Ensure purees are super smooth and not too thick. Slightly thicker than milk is ideal.
  • Repetition. We know it can take 10+ exposures to acquire a liking, so perseverance is required(19)(21). A tiny taste is all it takes, so what a great time to start before nutritional demands kick in.
  • No need to wait 2-3 days before introducing a new flavor. The window is short so capitalize on every opportunity to extend baby's palate. And avoid infant cereals. They are bland and offer nothing in the way of Flavor Training. However, do avoid introducing any of the top allergens before baby is six months old, unless you are doing so under the guidance of your pediatrician.
  • Ensure Flavor Training and mealtimes are a positive experience, free from pressure and expectations (4).
  • Normalize and continue to offer fresh vegetables well beyond the Flavor Training window. Exposure is everything and the key to lifelong enjoyment. 

Flavor training is therefore a super exciting opportunity whereby parents can really make a difference in setting health trajectories, without the fear and stress of meeting nutritional demands. It presents an opportunity whereby parents can be in the driving seat to drive healthy eating habits and the lifelong benefits that these bring.

Don’t take our word for it! Partnership for a Healthier America has launched a new nutrition education campaign called “Veggies Early and Often”, read more about it here. Good Feeding is proud to be one of the inaugural partners of this effort to get America’s youngest eaters to eat more veggies!

We are excited to announce the upcoming launch of our Go Well Program! The best start for your baby conveniently delivered to your door. Our 24-week feeding program helps take your baby from first flavors to adventurous eating in six simple steps. Scientifically designed to expose infants to different tastes and textures, and give your baby exactly what is needed to develop lifelong healthy eating habits. Get on the list for more information and be one of the first to start the program here.

  1. Ambrosini GL, Emmett PM, Northstone K, et al. Tracking a dietary pattern associated with increased adiposity in childhood and adolescence. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014;22(2):458-65.

  2. Birch LL, Gunder L, Grimm-Thomas K, et al. Infants' consumption of a new food enhances acceptance of similar foods. Appetite. 1998;30(3):283-95.

  3. Chambers L, Hetherington M, Cooke LJ, et al. 2016. Reaching consensus on a ‘vegetables first’ approach to complementary feeding. Nutr Bull. 2016;41:270-6.

  4. Daniels LA, Feeding Practices and Parenting: A Pathway to Child Health and Family Happiness,, Ann Nutr Metab, 2019, 74(suppl 2):29–42, https://doi.org/10.1159/000499145
  5.  Fildes A, Lopes C, Moreira C, et al. An exploratory trial of parental advice for increasing vegetable acceptance in infancy. J Nutr. 2015;114:328–36.

  6. Forestell CA, Mennella JA. More than just a pretty face. The relationship between infant’s temperament, food acceptance, and mothers’ perceptions of their enjoyment of food. Appetite 2012;58:1136–42.

  7. Lange C, Visalli M, Jacob C. Maternal feeding practices during the first year and their impact on infants’ acceptance of complementary food. Food Qual Pref. 2013;29(2): 89-98.

  8. Leal DB, Altenburg de Assis MA, Hinnig P. Changes in dietary patterns from childhood to adolescence and associated body adiposity status. Nutrients. 2017; 9(10): 1098.

  9. Luque V, Escribano J, Closa-Monasterolo R, et al. Unhealthy dietary patterns established in infancy track to mid-childhood: The EU Childhood Obesity Project. J Nutr. 2018;148(5):752–9.

  10. Maier-Nöth A, Schaal B, Leathwood P, et al. The lasting influences of early food-related variety experience: A longitudinal study of vegetable acceptance from 5 months to 6 years in two populations. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(3): e0151356.

  11. McGrath, F. Are we failing the next generation? https://www.ahealthieramerica.org/articles/are-we-failing-the-next-generation-717​.

  12. Mennella JA and Bobowski N. The sweetness and bitterness of childhood: Insights from basic research on taste preferences. Physiol Behav. 2015;152:502–7.

  13. Mennella JA, Pepino Y, Reed DR. Genetic and environmental determinants of bitter perception and sweet preferences. Pediatrics. 2005;115:e216–e222.

  14. Mikkila V, Rasanen L, Raitakari P, et al. Consistent dietary patterns identified from childhood to adulthood: the cardiovascular risk in Young Finns Study. Br J Nutr. 2005;93(6):923-31.

  15. Minich DM. A review of the science of colorful, plant-based food and practical strategies for “eating the rainbow”. J Nutr Metab. 2019, ID 2125070.

  16. Movassagh EZ, Baxter-Jones ADG, Kontulainen S, et al. Tracking dietary patterns over 20 years from childhood through adolescence into young adulthood: The Saskatchewan Pediatric Bone Mineral Accrual Study. Nutrients. 2017;9(9): 990.

  17. Nicklaus S, Boggio V, Chabanet C, et al. A prospective study of food preferences in childhood. Food Qual Prefer. 2004;15:805–18.

  18. Northstone K, Emmett PM. Are dietary patterns stable throughout early and mid-childhood? A birth cohort study. Br J Nutr. 2008;100(5):1069-76.

  19. Remy E, Issanchou S, Chabanet C, et al. Repeated exposure of infants at complementary feeding to a vegetable puree increases acceptance as effectively as flavor-flavor learning and more effectively than flavor-nutrient learning. J Nutr. 2013;143(7), 1194–1200.

  20. Skinner JD, Carruth BR, Wendy B, et al. Children's food preferences: a longitudinal analysis. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002; 102(11):1638-47.

  21. Spill MK, Johns K, Callahan EH, et al. Repeated exposure to food and food acceptability in infants and toddlers: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019;109(Suppl_7):978S-989S.

  22. Sullivan SA, Birch LL. Infant dietary experience and acceptance of solid foods. Pediatrics 1994;93:271–7.
Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only. Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.

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