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I often joke that if I were to draw a food pyramid to represent what my toddler actually eats, it would consist of a wide, sturdy base of starches and fruit and a fat midsection devoted to dairy (but let's be honest, mostly cheese). Its pinnacle would be a nearly microscopic triangle representing the two vegetables he occasionally eats (carrots and cucumbers).

Though I like to think my son is a special unicorn in all sorts of ways, I know from my shared laments with other parents that his eating habits, as specific as they are, aren't all that unique — at least for many American kids (culture has a big influence on our food preferences). In fact, there's no shortage of ink (er, html?) spilled about how to feed toddlers and young children whose eating patterns, like my son's, don't deviate much from staples like macaroni and cheese, flavored yogurt, and fruit (give or take maybe a chicken nugget or hot dog).

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It made me wonder: Why do kids love the foods they love? Was society imposing these food preferences on our kids, or did they burst forth from their mothers' bodies craving fluorescent orange cheddar, buttered noodles, and bananas?

The answer is kind of the latter.

Babies are born with a preference for sweet and salty flavors

If you think about a typical toddler's favorite foods, many of them have either sweet (fruit, juice, flavored yogurt, and anything sweetened) or salty (cheese, chicken nuggets, hot dogs) flavor profiles. Meanwhile, their oft shunned foods (hi, green veggies) tend to be bitter. Scientists believe this has evolutionary roots.

Studies show that babies have a biological predisposition for sweet tastes before they're even born. And there's a purpose for this. While you may associate sweetness with sugar-sweetened junk food (not exactly a survival imperative), sugar is an easy form of energy, which young children need. "If you're developing, you have energy needs," says Rachel Herz, PhD, senses and emotion scientist and author of Why You Eat What You Eat.

In addition to signifying calories and carbohydrates, sweetness is a predominant taste signal for human milk, says Julie Mennella, PhD, researcher at Monell Chemical Senses Center. So an infant's hankering for sweetness primes them to like breast milk. But children don't outgrow this preference once they leave infancy. Throughout childhood kids gravitate toward sweetness, which could explain a toddler's preference for sweet foods, like fruit, juice, or flavored yogurt.

So what about other American kid favorites that aren't sweet, like cheese, chicken nuggets, or hot dogs? Part of the appeal could be their salty flavor profile. Children prefer a higher concentration of salt than adults. This too serves an evolutionary purpose. Saltiness is a signal for protein, Herz says. Plus, it's a mineral that our bodies need to function.

On the flip side, there's a lot of nature behind a child's reluctance to eat vegetables, which sometimes have a bitter flavor. "In nature things that are bitter tend to be poisonous, so it's advantageous to not to be consuming bitter foods. Having these predispositions are helping with survival," Herz says.

Texture and color factor into food preferences too

Of course, taste isn't the only factor that influences a child's food choices. Though less researched, a food's texture and color may also play a role. Children are naturally neophobic, meaning they're apprehensive about new foods. To a mild degree, this is adaptive, Herz says, because it steers them away from unfamiliar foods that could be poisonous.

Along these lines, a slimy, crunchy or uneven texture (think: yogurt with fruit chunks in it) can raise a child's red flags. "Texture can be a signal for food that could be contaminated," Herz says. "If you were eating something and detected grains of dirt or sand, you know you shouldn't probably eat it. Likewise, if you're eating something with little bits, your reaction is to be cautious. That's connected to biology." This could make the unnaturally smooth texture of processed meats, like chicken nuggets or hotdogs, more appealing than the less predictable consistency of a real chicken breast or piece of pork.

Color too may be a signifier. Children may show a preference for foods that are white, such as rice, plain pasta, or bread because they perceive them to be "safe." As far as why kids love the vibrant orange and yellow of processed cheeses, "foods that are yellow have been shown to make people happier," Herz says.

How to expand a picky palate

Despite the fact that there's a biological basis for flavor preferences, they aren't set in stone. One of the best ways to raise an adventurous eater is to start 'em young. "When introducing solids, expose a baby often to bitter vegetables, fish, and spicy foods — foods that most toddlers would refuse," says Dr. Natalie Muth, MD, RD, a pediatrician and registered dietitian based in California.

But what about those of us for whom babyhood is a mere memory? Is all hope lost?

Not quite. Food preferences will evolve over time, independent of how we parent. Though our partiality to sweet and salty foods lingers through childhood, it lessens with age. For instance, if you ask a four-to-six-year-old to sweeten a drink to their preferred level of sweetness, they'll put in 12 sugar cubes, while an adult would add only seven, Herz says.

Parents can also help shape and broaden their children's picky palates in a number of ways, as well:

Prioritize exposure over clean plates. For a parent desperate for a child to try new foods, the sight of a barely-touched plate can be stressful. But Muth urges moms and dads to try not to fret.

"Be as relaxed as possible about offering a food they'll probably reject," she says. "Don't be so invested in whether they eat or not. Focus more on exposure," she says.

It can take 15 to 20 exposures for a kid to come around on a food. The key is that they're trying it. "They don't have to chew and swallow," Muth says, it just has to touch their tongue."

Make food more appealing. Rather than forcing toddlers to try new things, "the key is to find tricks to make them want to try the food out of their own volition," Muth says. A few ways to drum up interest in new foods include getting kids involved with meal prep or letting them pick out foods at the store. Or you could gussy up a disliked food by cutting it into a fun shape or putting it in a bag covered in stickers.

Try 'bridging.' Strategically bridge the gap between your child's likes and dislikes. Start with a food your child likes and use it to introduce a food that either has a similar flavor but different texture or a different flavor and similar texture.

For example, if your child likes french fries, offer sweet potato or zucchini fries because they have the same texture, Muth suggests. Or, if your child likes sweet potato fries, you could introduce them to mashed sweet potatoes, which feature the same flavors, but a different texture.

If that goes well, move to similarly prepared but gradually less sweet foods, such as mashed squash or mashed carrots.

Pair likes with dislikes. Bring your kids around to bitter-tasting foods by serving them with sweet or salty flavors (depending on what they like). Add cheese sauce to broccoli to make it more alluring. "Once they like that, progressively take off more cheese, until they've transitioned to eating it plain," Muth says.

Model an enjoyment of eating. One thing that becomes more important with age that may influence flavor preferences from a psychological perspective is the social context of eating, Herz says. A meal becomes more than meat and veggies on a plate when it becomes associated with having fun or being surrounded by loved ones. Parents can nurture this by showing their kids just how enjoyable eating can be when everyone sits down for family dinners.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Our Partners

Speaking to the nation Tuesday evening, President Trump addressed something that has been on the minds of pregnant people for weeks: Keeping newborns protected in hospitals that are also treating COVID-19 patients.

"I know many expectant mothers are understandably concerned about exposing their newborn babies to the virus," the President said.

According to President Trump, actions taken by his administration—including the development of field hospitals—this week will help keep delivery wards and COVID-19 patients "totally separate."

He said, "We're giving hospitals the flexibility to use new facilities to treat patients who do not have COVID-19, including expectant mothers, so they can deliver babies in a different environment so as not to worry about infection."

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The President acknowledged that this is a trying time for America and certainly for its expecting mothers, who are dealing with so many worries right now.

Many are worried about having to give birth without their partner or companion (though it should be noted that the New York hospitals that banned partners and visitors were later directed by that state's government to allow partners in), others are worried about being separated from their babies (this happens, but it is rare and a last resort).

Experts admit that everything is constantly changing right now and that birth plans are being interrupted, but medical providers are still doing the very best they can under the circumstances.

"Having a partner available, having birth support, is essential," Dr. Neel Shah, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School told WBUR's Morning Edition on Tuesday.

Shah continued: "Part of the challenge in this new context that we're in, is that the services that used to be essential a few weeks ago are still essential; we're just not able to provide them in the same way. And so we've got to figure out new ways of delivering the kinds of care that people really need, like virtual prenatal visits."

Some expecting mothers are seeking different hospitals, or birthing centers to give birth in. Others are investigating home birth.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that despite the pandemic, it believes "the safest place for you to give birth is still a hospital, hospital-based birth center, or accredited freestanding birth center" but notes that "every woman has the right to choose where she will give birth."

As Motherly's Digital Education Editor and Midwife, Diana Spalding, previously noted: "It's important to know that [birth centers or home births] may not be available to everyone."

As Spalding explains, "home birth and birth centers are considered safe for low-risk pregnancies", but if your pregnancy has been complicated they may not be a fit for you.

"It's also key to investigate whether your insurance covers out-of-hospital birth. And certainly, you'll need to see if the midwives have availability," she explains.

The ACOG and Spalding both recommend pregnant people talk to their care provider about any fears, worries or changes in plans.

"Perhaps one of the hardest parts of this is that we are still learning. Few questions have solid answers. Still, every day we know more, and I want to assure you that although it feels scary, there is still a good chance everything will be okay, especially if you take the proper precautions," Spalding writes.

Those precautions include staying home right now, practicing good hand hygiene and communicating with your prenatal care providers.

Everyone (even up to the President of the United States) recognizes how hard it is to be pregnant right now. Lean on the people and the resources that are available to you.

If you're pregnant, Motherly has made our Becoming Mama™ Online Birth Class free in response to COVID-19.


News

Sydni Lane, a trauma nurse and Instagram influencer is on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus pandemic and she shared a very powerful message with us this week—she's scared. She's scared of contracting this virus and bringing it home to her family, including her asthmatic children. She's scared for her safety. She's scared people still might not be taking this as seriously as they need to be.

Because she doesn't have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) at work. Because her face is bruised from wearing a mask for over 13 hours. Because she fears we may not have started social-distancing as a collective nation early enough. Because even though she accepted a job as a nurse in the ER, the day she'd have to fight a global pandemic likely hardly ever crossed her mind.

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And because this seems to be only the beginning for her and her colleagues as they prepare for the peak to hit eventually. She is understandably scared.

She wrote—

"I broke down and cried today.

"I cried of exhaustion, of defeat.

"Because after four years of being an ER nurse, I suddenly feel like I know nothing.

"Because my face hurts after wearing an N95 for 13 hours, which happens to be the same N95 I wore yesterday for 12.5 hours, and the same one from all last week.

"I don't know how many times I've heard the statement 'but this is what you signed up for.' Just, no.

"I signed up to take care of sick patients, yes. I did not sign up to be unprotected by their sickness (although my hospital is busting their [butts] to try to protect us). I did not sign up to be yelled at by angry patients because our government failed to be prepared. I did not sign up to risk mine and my family's health and safety because people wanted to go on their vacations after they said NOT to.

"An ER nurse in New York died today of COVID-19. He was in his 40s and had very mild asthma. That's it. This is not just a tall tale, this is the real risk. I have to go into every patient's room and in the back of my mind I think 'this could be the patient that gets me sick... that kills me. This could be the patient that gives me the virus I bring home to my children or asthmatic husband.' This is my new reality.

"But this is only the beginning. We haven't even scratched the surface of the impact of what this illness is going to make on our country.

"And I'm scared."


Our hearts go out to these healthcare workers who are—no doubt—superheroes. They are risking their lives to ensure the safety of ours. They're separated from their loved ones. Some may even be experiencing personal and even financial hardship right now. They are treating patients around the clock under extreme circumstances and, honestly, there are not enough words in the dictionary to accurately explain our depth of gratitude.

What we can do is help. If you have the means to, donate. Donate to Feeding America. Think of a friend or family member working at a hospital and Venmo them any dollar amount—even just enough for a coffee. If you know how to sew, make medical masks for your local hospital.

More importantly, reach out to them and ask them how they are. Let them know you're thinking of them and how grateful you are for their work. I bet they could use the encouragement right about now.

Life

Bestselling author, professor and researcher Brené Brown is well-known and loved for her inspirational approach to life's challenges (and for her Netflix special The Call to Courage)‚ but even she acknowledges that the coronavirus pandemic presents a whole new set of challenges for families.

"Collectively, what I see is a growing weariness. I think we're tired, physically, emotionally, spiritually exhausted," Brown said on Monday in an interview for the Today Show, adding that part of the challenge is acknowledging that we're in it for the long haul. "We're going to have to settle into a new normal, while grieving the old normal, which is a lot to ask of people."

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With schools and workplaces closed and social distancing measures in effect across the country, many parents are pulling triple-duty at home right now as full-time caregivers, homeschool instructors and workers. At some moments, it can (understandably) feel as if parenting through coronavirus requires more than we have to give.

Enter Brown's "family gap plan," which can help families bridge the gap during tough moments.

As Brown explains it, "I'd say (to my husband), 'Steve, all I have is 20%.' And he's like, 'Hey, I've been holding down the fort here. All I got is 20.' So we'd say, 'Okay, we've got a gaping 60%. What are our rules when we don't have 100% as a family?'"

Brown stresses the importance of keeping lines of communication open as a family: "Let people know where you are." She and her husband have a policy of being honest with their children about moments when they feel low-energy or high-stress.

"I'll say, 'We have to make 100 as a family. I've got 20, and your dad's got 20. What do we do to get to 100?' And it's about the way we talk to each other, the way we show up with each other, extra kindness...and takeout."

In fact, Brown's kids helped come up with the set of rules their family follows whenever there's a "family gap" and things aren't adding up to 100%:

  • No harsh words
  • No nice words with harsh faces
  • Say you're sorry
  • Accept apologies with a "thank you" (as opposed to "okay," which can sound frosty)
  • More knock-knock jokes and puns

Every family is different, and your family's way of bridging the gap may call for a different set of rules (and the truth is, it's okay to not be okay sometimes). But as tactical, actionable advice for keeping the peace at home goes, the more humor and kindness, the better.

News

It was 8 pm on Sunday night and the kids were in bed. I was in the middle of urgent work emails for my mental health clinic to ensure we were prioritizing the health and care of our clients in light of the novel coronavirus spread. My work demanded my attention.

My partner walked into the room. I looked up and paused and saw the uncertainty in his eyes. I could see that he needed me.

This was one of those moments. This was a bid for attention.

Bids for attention are our attempts to connect with our partners—to be seen, to be appreciated, to be acknowledged, to be given affection. They can be small bids (like making eye contact and smiling) or bigger bids (like asking for help). Often it is not about what someone says or does, but rather the meaning behind the action.

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When your partner asks, "How was work today?" (or even just, "What's up?") what they are really asking is, "Will you talk to me?"

If they glance over and smile at you, what they really want to know is, "Will you notice and connect with me?"

For some, reaching for connection with our partner takes the form of actual verbal requests for help, as in "I need help" or even "I feel like you don't love me."

For others, nonverbal expressions are how we attempt to connect—for affection, care and engagement.

On that Sunday night, my partner didn't say anything. It was all in the look on his face.

I could have said "I have to do this!" and dismissed him from the room. I could have made a list of the things that were necessary to get done. I could have ignored him altogether.

But how we respond to these bids for attention in our relationships is key.

We can either turn towards our partner and see these bids for attention, or we turn away and shut them down. Dr. John Gottman, the relationships researcher, clinical psychologist and founder of the Gottman Institute, found that couples who were still married six years after their initial research meeting turned towards each other 86% of the time, while couples who ended up divorced turned towards each other 33% of the time.

So how do we respond to bids for attention?

One way of responding is by turning towards your partner. This is you seeing your partner's attempt to connect. This is you deciding that whatever is going on for you can wait because you can see that your partner needs you. This is you, at times, putting aside your own feelings, and seeing your partner's.

What does turning towards look like?

  • Smiling back and holding eye contact.
  • Sharing the feeling that comes up at that moment.
  • Responding to touch and letting your partner know you feel them there and appreciate their efforts to connect.
  • Asking what your partner needs in the moment.
  • Seeing your partner's emotion and reflecting it back to them.
  • Asking how you can help them in this moment.
  • Asking a following up question.

The challenge, of course, is that during times of stress and overwhelm, or when we feel disconnected and distressed, we get stuck in turning away from our partners.

Turning away takes a number of forms, too. Sometimes it looks like walking away and not acknowledging your partner, or passing each other in the hall and not meeting your partner's gaze. It may also look like staying away from your partner instead of going to them, or changing the topic when difficult things are brought up. It may also be minimizing the other person's experience ("it's not a big deal") or coming back with a defensive response. Maybe you don't even respond to your partner at all.

Missing these bids for attention sends our partner the message that we don't see them and that they are not important. This slowly erodes the health of your relationship.

We all miss bids for attention at times—particularly during times of stress and struggle. We must learn to tune into our partner and see them when they are asking—silently or out loud—for connection. What are the ways your partner tries for your attention? Have you shared with your partner how you try to get their attention?

On that Sunday night, in the middle of a pandemic, I chose connection. I paused my work and connected with him. I asked him what was going on for him, and I held him close.

You can choose to respond to your partner during this difficult time. You can choose to see your partner in front of you and create closeness and responsiveness. Because this is a time when we all need to create connections.

Love + Village
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