Teaching young children to like grassfed products

by Allan Nation

As I’ve gotten older I have noticed that I seek out foods with stronger flavors.

I like both my steaks and cheeses well-aged with a “taste of grass” in them.

To me, grainfed beef and commodity cheese are as flavorless as a glass of water. The same is true of store-bought vegetables and eggs.

However, my enthusiasm for strong-flavored foods is not shared by my grandchildren. They took one bite of my grassfed hamburger, made a face and spit it out. No amount of my coaxing could get them to eat another bite.

While this was certainly a disappointment to me, I have subsequently learned that such a reaction to different and stronger flavored foods is very common in children. As a marketer of a stronger flavored product, you need to be aware of this and prepare your customer for a similar reaction from their children. In this article are some suggestions for your customers of what to do about this.

The December 9, 2003 issue of The Wall Street Journal, had a special section on child nutrition that addressed children disliking being switched to healthier foods from what they were accustomed to.

The article said it is very important that parents not give in to young children’s resistence to healthy foods as this can have long-lasting consequences. Human health after 50 is largely determined by what you eat in the first five years of your life.


“Growth and cell division in many parts of the body occur only in childhood, which is why the foods and nutrients children consume in their early years can influence lifelong health,” the article said.

For example, adult height is largely determined by age five and bone and tooth strength by age 11. A woman’s risk of osteoporosis late in life is almost entirely decided by the end of her adolescence.

If obesity occurs in childhood it is very difficult for these children to be thin as adults because they have already formed an abnormal number of fat cells in their body.

“Eating behavior and food preferences are perhaps the biggest determinants of long term health,” the article said. “These are primarily decided in childhood and adolescence.

“Studies show that eating habits and obesity can affect risk for premature cancer, diabetes, liver and heart disease, and many other health problems.”

Of course, we in the grassfed business know the importance of omega 3 fatty acid and CLA that most people ignore.

The problem with children is that the foods that are good for you tend to be more strongly flavored and children tend not to like new strongly flavored foods. The emphasis word here is “new” more than “strongly flavored.”

The article said that children are born with a preference for sweet and salty foods, and largely have to learn to like everything else.

Children instinctively reject an unknown strong taste. This instinct is what kept humans from eating poisonous foods in nature.

“Parents see the kid shudder and spit food out as reflecting some dislike that can’t be changed, so they tend not to offer it again,” Leann L. Birch, professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University, told the Journal.

Birch said giving up after one try is wrong and that children can be taught to eat and like healthy foods. She said this usually only takes two to three tries with infants but may take over 10 tries with older children.

Susan Roberts, a Tufts University nutritionist, said parents often have to offer a new food to an older child 15 times before they will accept it. She said parents should wait from a few days to two weeks before re-offering a previously rejected food.


Roberts said it is very important that parents maintain a low-key approach when offering any food to a child.

The Journal said many experts suggest putting the food on the table and encouraging just one bite, and not reacting positively or negatively whether the child likes it or not.

Studies have found that when children are forced to eat a food, or rewarded or praised for eating a food, they often develop an aversion to it.

Research at Penn State found that four-year-olds who had been rewarded with stickers or television watching time for eating their vegetables or drinking their milk, expressed dislike for the foods they had been encouraged to eat.

“So, while bribes and encouragement may prompt a child to eat a food in the short term, over time he will develop an aversion to foods he associates with parental control, just as he would develop an aversion to a food that made him ill,” the Journal wrote.

“Research shows that parents who try to exert too much control over a child’s eating end up doing more harm than good.”

The article suggested that parents should pack the refrigerator and cupboards with healthy foods, put balanced meals on the table and keep undesirable foods out of the house.

“But once the shopping and cooking is done, leave your kid alone. Trying to control a child’s eating behavior will invariably backfire, encouraging a child to overeat instead.”

The Journal cited one study of five-year-olds whose mothers had tightly controlled their food intake. The study showed significant increases in over-eating by the age of seven and posted additional increases by the age of nine.

In a separate Penn State study, preschoolers were fed lunch until they said they weren’t hungry. The children were then left in a room alone with a variety of snack foods.

The children who had tight eating rules at home wound up binging on the snack foods while the children with no food rules at home showed no interest in the snack foods.

“Restricting food teaches a child if it’s here now, whether I’m hungry or not, I better eat it, because it’s the only chance I’m going to get,” Dr. Birch told the Journal.

Apparently, the worst thing to do is to have unhealthy foods like soda and snack foods in the house and then tell the children they are forbidden.

A far better strategy is to keep such foods out of the house and then bring them in on special occasions, and let the kids have control over whether they eat them or not.


The article said adults need to keep in mind that at every stage of a child’s development, parental example remains a dominant way to influence behavior.

For example, babies are more likely to put food in their mouths when they see a parent eat it, and toddlers, preschoolers and elementary school kids are more likely to accept foods their parents like.

If fact, the Journal said the best strategy to follow when your child rejects a food is to eat it yourself.

A June 2003 study at Penn State found that children were strongly influenced by their parents’ eating preferences. For example, the daughters of women who didn’t themselves eat a variety of vegetables were also picky eaters.

Reading this article reminded me of Dr. Fred Provenza’s work with cattle and sheep at Utah State. No doubt researchers will eventually discover that humans’ - like cattle and sheep - food preferences are initially formed in the womb and through their mother’s milk as well. I guess the bottom line here is that the best way for you to insure your children eat healthy foods is for you to eat them yourself.

© by The Stockman Grass Farmer

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