Babies who are encouraged to feed themselves a wide range of foods from six months of age onwards are less fussy as they get older, according to new research.
An Otago University study found that babies who are presented with a range of foods as they transition from breastfeeding to solids — and who feed themselves, rather than being spoon-fed — show more enjoyment in their food at age 1 and 2. They are also more willing to try new foods.
"If you are giving kids a variety of different tastes and textures — that messy but enjoyable exploration of food — it is quite different from giving them a bland [diet]," says Professor Rachael Taylor, who co-led the study with Associate Professor Anne-Louise Heath.
"You think babies won't like spicy foods, but taste is a learned behaviour.
"The last thing you want is a fussy kid," says Taylor, who studies childhood obesity. "You want them eating more than saveloys and peas and bread."
It is not known whether these unfussy babies continue to eat widely as they get to school-age and beyond.
"One would hope so but of course by the time these kids are 2 they are usually eating similarly," says Taylor. "Generally by the time they are 1 they are eating family foods."
The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, was designed to examine the link between baby-led weaning and weight control, but found no significant relationship between the two.
The randomised clinical trial included 206 women and their babies. They were predominantly middle-class and European.
Babies are ready to try solids when they show an interest in other people eating, reach out for food and make chewing movements, according to experts.