Nutrition and a healthy diet? It can be child's play
World Food Day The weaning process offers a small window of opportunity to shape a child's taste preferences — which is why a healthy eating routine should be established as early as possible.
We spoke to the team at Danone Early Life Nutrition about the importance of weaning and why- when it comes to a baby’s food- science and behaviour should be at the heart of parents weaning journey with their little ones.
The nutrition a baby receives in their first 1000 days is scientifically proven to influence their development and health in later life.
Quality of ingredients
The type of food a baby needs depends on its age. From 0-6 months, exclusive breast feeding is best and from around 6 months foods can be gradually introduced. Because of the small size of their stomachs, however, there's a limit to what a baby can eat; so it's important to ensure that the food they receive is varied and contains only high quality ingredients.
"There's a limit to the quantity a baby can eat; so it's vital to ensure their food is nutritionally dense."
It is important for babies to consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Babies have an innate preference for sweet tastes from birth, Danone food experts say, from a scientific point of view, a baby’s reluctance to try single veggies is entirely understandable. It's why they'll readily accept, say, banana purée but pull a face when offered broccoli purée. The broccoli is a completely new and bitter flavour, so the trick is to get them used to it. In order to hero these vegetable flavours, Cow & Gate foods’ underwent a renovation project where they removed all fruit and fruit juice concentrate from their savoury jars to ensure they were not masking vegetable flavours with sweetness.
Danone’s dietitians therefore believe giving babies single-flavour vegetables from the very start of weaning may help develop healthier eating habits because, if a baby starts to love their veggies, there's a strong likelihood that they will continue to eat them in later life.
Keep persevering with veg
In addition it is also important to vary the types of veg a baby receives. And though it can be hugely frustrating when a spoon of broccoli purée keeps being rejected, frazzled parents should bear in mind that the weaning process can offer a window of opportunity to shape a child's taste preferences — which is why perseverance is so essential. Indeed research in collaboration with Danone’s scientists has contributed to a body of evidence showing parents may have to offer the same vegetable up to 10 times before their baby will accept it.
"Flavour in baby food isn't everything: texture is important."
Flavour in baby food isn't everything, however: texture is important, too. At the beginning of the weaning process, babies are often spoon fed with a soft purée. As the month’s progress, they will be exposed to increasingly complex textures to encourage: biting, chewing and being able to clear the spoon with their lips. During the renovation process Danone’s team of nutritionists, dietitians and scientific experts with special interest in food behaviour looked into eating habits throughout the entire weaning period and beyond, and discovered that nutrition and a varied diet can have a positive impact on all the family.
photo credit: Danone
Setting a good eating example
Yet for positive eating behaviour to be passed on successfully, research stresses that parents need to set a good example with food. Role modelling research demonstrates that babies and children learn about nutrition and eating habits from their parents; so if a child refuses to eat a particular food but then sees their parents eating and enjoying it, they may be more likely to want to try it themselves.
Talking to parents through consumer research gave valuable insights that kick-started the biggest transformation its brand had seen in the last decade. All 52 jars had their packaging completely overhauled and the team worked hard to reformulate and improve the overall nutritional content of its jars. The result: new products with a new look which have been available since June of last year.
"Babies should get used to savoury, distinguishable vegetable flavours — an important part of their development."
Firstly, fruit and fruit juice concentrate were removed from all Cow & Gate savoury jars after the company's 'vegetable-first' scientific research highlighted the importance of not masking bitter vegetable flavours with sweetness. A food jar combining sweet and savoury tastes may be a taste the baby prefers; but it will not help babies learn to love vegetable flavours. Now babies eating Cow & Gate food can get used to, distinguishable vegetable flavours —an important step for developing their taste preferences. Since it is recognised that older children’s diets are too high in sugar, total sugar from Cow & Gate jars was reduced by over 20 per cent. To do this, the company came up with innovative solutions including creating a sugar-free biscuit base for its crumble recipes.
Best practice and quality ingredients
Because the introduction and progression of texture through food plays an important role in the weaning journey, the texture progression of Cow & Gate Jars was also improved. This included increasing the number of recognisable pieces in the later stages of its jars (both 7 month & 10 month+), while ensuring the texture remained soft and age-appropriate.
Finally, brand new ingredient-led transparent labels were introduced across the range to make it easier to see exactly what is in each jar. Colour differentiation also helps parents recognise the hero ingredients in foods through colour as well as taste.
One thing didn't change, however: the company's sourcing practices. Danone has always worked closely with their farmers who supply the ingredients for foods — most of whom have been growing and supplying with the company for over 10 years — to ensure they follow best practices and produce their highest quality ingredients.
In recognition of the work it has done on the Cow & Gate jar renovation, Danone Early Life Nutrition, was awarded the Food and Drink Federation’s prestigious ‘Health’ award in September 2017, for its contribution to the health and wellbeing of its consumers.
video credit: BETC