Food, Global Health 3 min

When young children learn to eat a wide variety of textures

PRESS RELEASE - How do young children aged 6 to 18 months learn to eat food with a variety of textures? Which textures do they accept as a function of their age? For the first time in France, INRA researchers, in collaboration with Blédina, have studied these questions. They showed that children accept (in small amounts) most textures at an earlier age than when their parents usually offer them at home. Published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, this work suggests recommendations for complementary feeding.

Published on 21 June 2018

illustration When young children learn to eat a wide variety of textures

In the first months of life, nutritional intake of the infant is provided by breast milk or infant formula. Towards 4-6 months, its diet evolves with the introduction of a more varied solid diet (fruits, vegetables, cereal products, meat / fish / egg and dairy products other than milk). Initially, these foods are often offered to the child in purees that allow him to discover different tastes. Then over the months, the purées are gradually replaced by small and soft pieces first and then bigger and bigger, hard, sticky, fibrous ... which will allow the child to learn to eat the food of the family table. However, at present1, public health recommendations on the subject are limited and scientific data are scarce. In Europe, the Nutrition Committee of the Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology (ESPGHAN) issued an opinion in 2017 2 encouraging the timely introduction of pieces. Observational studies suggest that late introduction of food pieces would be associated with food refusals at 18 months and with lower consumption of fruits and vegetables at 7 years.

In this context and for the first time in France, INRA researchers, in collaboration with the Blédina company, conducted a longitudinal study with young children between 2015 and 2017, to better understand how they learn to eat a variety of textures and which textures are suitable and accepted as a function of their age. The scientists followed two groups of children over the months, in their laboratory. The first group of 24 children started the study at 6 months and measurements were repeated at 8 and 10 months. The second group of 25 children were followed at 12, 15 and 18 months. According to the ages, the researchers offered the children three spoons [smooth or granular purees, small pieces of cooked or raw vegetables, small pieces of meat, pasta, muesli, sticky pieces (banana and brie) and commercial baby meals] or a piece (bread and biscuit) of food with a variety of textures, at an age that their parents often had not yet offered them at home. For each food, the researchers evaluated how the child ate the food (by sucking or chewing it) and whether he accepted the food (if he was able to swallow it).

The results showed that granular purees with or without small soft pieces were very well accepted from 6 months and that the children consumed them by sucking. Between 6 and 10 months, the children gradually learned to chew, which allowed them to better accept soft, sticky pieces and bread. However, at 10 months, less than 50% of children were able to eat a piece of bread or a baby biscuit in the allocated time (one minute), and it was only at 15 months that all children accepted these foods. Between 12 and 18 months, children chewed all the foods and the sucking behavior was almost gone. This is a period in which acceptability of pieces of raw vegetables and pasta (pennette) develops but these foods were accepted by at least 50% of children only at 15 months and some children still could not eat them at 18 months. In the view of parents, children liked a food as soon as they were able to eat it, with the exception of bread and biscuits, which were appreciated even when children had difficulty swallowing them.

These data reveal that children accept in small quantities most of the proposed textures at a much earlier age than when their parents generally give them at home. The acceptability of hard and raw vegetables gradually increases between 6 and 18 months, in parallel with the emergence of chewing abilities. This work makes it possible to consider recommendations for leading complementary feeding for parents.

1 This work was conducted as part of Lauriane Demonteil's PhD thesis.
2  M. Fewtrell, J. Bronsky, C. Campoy, M. Domellöf, N. Embleton, N. Fidler Mis, C. Molgaard. Complementary Feeding: A Position Paper by the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) Committee on Nutrition Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 64 (1) (2017), pp. 119-132.



Sophie Nicklaus Centre for Taste and Feeding Behaviour

Carole Tournier Centre for Taste and Feeding Behaviour



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