When my wife and I were preparing for our first child, we attended a bunch of classes about birthing. They told us our daughter wouldn’t develop a sense of taste for the first year or longer.
I doubt their instructors had any kids of their own.
Before she was 6 months old, I knew our oldest daughter could taste that awful stuff called baby food and the bland baby cereal that we were forcing on her.
Because she didn’t like her cereal, one day I smashed up a piece of banana, mixed it in her cereal and gave it to her. That, she liked. But she didn’t like apple sauce in her cereal or by itself.
Before I gave her a baby spoonful of strained green beans, I tasted it. Yuck is too good a word to describe that slimy, green mess! It was little wonder she spit it out.
Ten years later, while I was feeding our youngest daughter, I tried a little experiment. She was not yet 6 months old. I opened a jar of green peas and a jar of plums. She gladly ate the plums, but when I gave her a spoonful of peas, she sprayed them back at me. She could taste the difference between sweet-tasting plums and putrid-tasting, unseasoned garden peas.
In between our daughters was our son, who was a finicky eater. He didn’t like baby food, and he didn’t seem to like the table food my wife puréed in a blender. Then one day, I dabbled a little bit of sauce on his lips from my wife’s oven-cooked barbecue chicken. When he licked his lips, he smiled and jumped around in his high chair with anticipation of getting some real food. When a drumstick didn’t follow that first taste, he let it be known he didn’t like being teased.
Neither of our oldest daughter’s daughters seem to have eating issues. Her oldest, in fact, was eating like a 4-year-old by the time she was 1. But our son’s daughter eats like he did up until he was about 8 years old (unless you gave him some barbecue or a hot wing). My son’s son, however, will eat anything he’s given, including North Carolina barbecue and pieces of fried chicken. And he’s only 9 months old.
He jumps for joy when he gets a taste of something saucy, the way his daddy (and granddaddy) did. It sort of makes you think there’s something hereditary about tastes and eating habits.
In fact, there seems to be medical evidence of a connection between the foods that women eat while pregnant and foods their children show a preference for when they start eating table food.
According to an article by Gretchen Cuda-Kroen published two years ago on National Public Radio’s website, as a baby develops in the womb, he or she gulps down several ounces of amniotic fluid every day. Cuda-Kroen said that fluid, which surrounds the baby, is flavored by whatever Mom is eating and drinking. She added that breast milk also takes on the flavor of what Mom is eating.
That makes sense. I suspect my mama was on the Atkins diet while she carried me.
Cuda-Kroen’s article discussed a test conducted at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. She said several pregnant women were given a garlic capsule or a sugar capsule, then some folks were asked to smell a sample of each woman’s amniotic fluid.
She first pointed out that 90 percent of what we taste is affected by our sense of smell, and then said the test panel was able to distinguish which women had taken the garlic capsule and which ones had taken the sugar capsule.
I’m willing to go a step further. I think there might also be a genetic correlation.
My wife has never been one for eating spicy foods, but all three of our kids and now our oldest grandkids love spicy barbecue, hot wings and Mexican dishes. If they didn’t acquire that taste from her, I think they got it from my DNA.
I won’t foolishly suggest giving babies puréed table foods that are high in salts, glutens, MSGs or sugar. And I wouldn’t give a baby raw honey or peanut butter, either.
I do think, though, that they can taste the stuff you give them and, like you, they’d prefer foods that taste good to baby-food mush that tastes like that green slime removed from an aquarium.
Murray’s column appears weekly in the Coastal Courier. Email Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.