July 1st, 2008
12:09 PM ET

Developing a baby's palate

By Shahreen Abedin
CNN Medical Producer

I went to the New Jersey State Fair this weekend and for the first time ever, I had a deep-fried Twinkie.  Honestly, it was AMAZING.  Then when we got home, I gave my 7-month old a bath, and sat him down to dinner: A jar of organic pureed chicken and sweet potatoes (ingredients: chicken, sweet potatoes, water, apricot puree, no salt, no sugar, all organic).  It was supposed to be as healthy possible, aside from making it fresh yourself.  So I felt like a good mommy, giving my baby the best (no Twinkies here!).  He seemed to be fine with it too.  Then I tasted it when I licked my hand.  YUCK!!  So flavorless that it actually had an aftertaste – how can something that tastes like nothing have an aftertaste?

Anyway, I started to think about how we parents are told how careful we need to be about introducing the right foods to our babies, so they grow to form healthy habits. Feed them bland foods, we're told, so they don't start to prefer the salty, savory, sweeter foods over their milk, which is still supposed to be their staple source of nutrition until closer to the end of the first year (that's according to Heidi Murkoff, author of "What To Expect the First Year," but also supported by most how-to parenting feeding guidelines I've read). 

In contrast, my mother tells me that I was crawling around gnawing on a spicy curried chicken drumstick when I was my son's age, and my eating habits as a young person were quite healthy – I even liked broccoli and brussels sprouts!   I've always wanted my baby to eventually become an adventurous eater with a dynamic palate (mussels in white wine sauce, anyone?), so I asked my pediatrician, and he said added spices and seasonings aren't necessarily a bad thing, as long as baby is OK with it.  Meanwhile, other friends of ours joke about sticking pepperoni pizza in the blender so that Baby could partake in the occasional indulgence.

So I just wanted to check in with other parents out there.  How cautious do you need to be about developing healthy habits when Junior is still a wee one?  When did you know it was OK to start giving your baby food that tastes/looks more like grown up food?  And do you agree that bland is the way to go for the first year at least, or do you think it's not such a big risk to introduce herbs and spices early on, to develop your baby's palate for a variety of healthy foods in the future?

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.