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30% of toddlers don’t eat vegetables daily, says new study

Before becoming a mom, I imagined I would be the type to make all my baby food from scratch and prepare perfectly balanced meals that would expose my adventurous eater to a variety of tastes. But reality sent me down a different path—a path with more squeeze-packs of food than I anticipated.

Now a new study underlines that not all of those squeeze-packs are created equal. And, if I’m going to reach for one, I should be sure to narrow the field to the options that include vegetables. Otherwise, before I know it, my toddler may be among the 30% of infants and toddlers who don’t consume a single vegetable on a daily basis.

“The commercial infant and toddler foods market in the U.S. does not appear to provide caregivers with an adequate type and selection of products to facilitate children's later acceptance of the kinds of vegetables they will encounter and be encouraged to consume once they have transitioned to table foods,” say the authors of a study published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

According to the research, of the 548 infant and toddler foods sold in the United States that they analyzed, only 52 consisted purely of vegetables—and zero were made from straight leafy greens, beans or peas.

As for squeeze packs with a mash-up of flavors, fruit or sweeter vegetables (such as carrots or sweet potatoes) dominate. Meanwhile, dark green vegetables were only listed as the first ingredient in 1.1% of the available options.

Why does this matter? While babies naturally prefer sweeter tastes (that they are used to from breast milk or formula), exposure to the bitter taste of leafy greens or beans early on boosts their chances of willingly downing vegetables later in childhood.

For parents with infants and toddlers today, the best solution may be to continue to offer them peas, beans and leafy greens—even when they respond with “yucky.” It’s only with this kind of exposure that “yucky” will eventually turn to acceptance. (Here’s hoping.)

Down the road, researchers say they hope commercial manufacturers will respond by giving greens a greater presence in ready-made baby foods. Speaking on behalf of all parents with picky kids, to that I say: Peas and thank you!

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