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Toddler Traits and Food Trial


Infants with inhibited personalities are more likely to resist new foods

Do you have a mealtime dilemma on your hands?  Finicky food preferences from toddlers and sometimes teenagers are something we’ve just come to expect, and not only when it comes to vegetables.   One study found that 46% of preschoolers were picky eaters and 40% remained that way for two more years.  A study published in Child Development last month set out to see if response to new foods was related to whether someone is innately attracted to or wary of new or unfamiliar things, in this case - new toys. 

Researchers observed 136 pairs of mothers and infants at 6 and 12 months of age.  During each visit they played with new toys and tried a new food.  The last visit was 6 months later, where children were encouraged to explore a room that was furnished with new and unfamiliar objects.  Results were consistent in that babies that had a positive response to new toys at 6 months also tended to react positively to new foods; and similarly those that resisted new toys were hesitant when faced with a new food.  Their reaction to new foods at 12 months of age was also a good predictor of how they would engage with new toys at 18 months. 

These findings are based on temperament which is established on a sliding scale from exuberant to inhibited.  Exuberant people tend to be more adventurous with new foods, while inhibited individuals are more shy or reserved.  Penn State Professor Cynthia Stifter explains that temperament effects almost every aspect of our lives in that it’s a unique way that we see the world. 

That said - don’t lose hope!  Just because we’re born at a specific place on the temperament scale doesn’t mean we can’t change our behavior.  Remember the power of persistence.  It often takes children 8-10 exposures to a new food to even try it, never mind like it.  Don’t focus on every bite they take.  Encourage them to try all new foods, after all, how will they know if they like it, if they haven’t even tried it!  It also doesn’t hurt to create a positive environment where they feel like eating fruits and vegetables and other new foods is accepted and not something you do because mom told you so. 

Here are some kid-friendly favorites that can help make mealtime more manageable:  Dole Kids with Almond Toast and Hoot Owl Sandwiches.  

Published September 1, 2017

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