The Hidden Side of Developing a Sophisticated Palate

As a mom of two youngsters, I often mention to other parents that the amount of food waste we generate as a household has increased exponentially since having kids.  It's not that we're trying to be wasteful - it's more that toddlers can be picky, loving one food this week and not touching it next.  And on top of that, we try to offer new foods so that she can experience different flavors and tastes.  Not to mention the baby who tosses the vast majority of what's offered to her on the ground.

Studies have shown that kids need to be offered the same food about a dozen or so times before they're accepted.  This translates to a lot of broccoli being thrown away, or whatever the fruit, vegetable or other food is you're attempting to get into your kid's stomach.

New research offers up some discussion on food waste and kids, and this Atlantic story explains what it may all mean from a public health perspective.

The highlights of the study:

  • Low-income parents buy foods that their children like to avoid food waste
  • High-income parents have more money to give children foods they may reject.
  • Parents' tastes attenuate their reluctance to expose children to new foods.
  • Low-income parents' risk aversion may affect children's taste formation.
  • Accounting for waste may yield better estimates of children's diet cost.

So while many studies and commentary have focused on the higher cost of healthy food, little if any attention has been paid to parents' ability to essentially 'afford food waste.'  As the Atlantic sums up nicely, "wealthier parents aren’t as constrained in teaching their children what to like."

And developing these habits early sets us on a course for the rest of our lives.  This same Atlantic article points to another study that explains how healthier palates might be guiding higher-income individuals' food choices (rather than, say, merely more knowledge about what's good/bad for us, and an ability to resist the temptation of less nutritious foods).  So perhaps those who were exposed to healthier foods when younger end up desiring these foods later in life.

Not sure what can be done about the waste component but certainly it's an important one.  And for parents that have the ability to share new foods with their kids, research continues to show that it pays off.