Yet another study proves that parents who take an active role in their children’s nutrition help those children move on to a lifetime of healthy eating.

A new study out of the UK and published in the journal Public Health Nutrition shows that babies fed home-cooked food are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables when they are older than those fed jarred food.

Experts from from De Montfort University the Universities of Bristol and Birmingham in the U.K. analysed 7,866 mothers of children born in 1991 and 1992 and found that infants weaned on homemade food develop a taste for what is good for them by the age of seven. 

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, De Montford University researcher Dr. Helen Coulthard said mothers should be giving their infants a home-cooked fruit or vegetable every day and gave a range of reasons why these homemade meals make such an impact on children:

It is interesting that feeding babies ready-prepared fruit and vegetables at six months had no positive effect on later fruit and vegetable consumption.  This may be due to the fact that infants are fed types of vegetables in ready-prepared foods that the family do not usually eat.  It may also be that mothers who use ready-prepared foods do not eat as much fruit and vegetables themselves or are more likely to rely on convenience foods.

In addition fruit and vegetables from packets, jars and tins are likely to have a uniform taste and texture, whereas those cooked at home or eaten raw will vary according to the variety of the particular fruit or vegetable, whether it is in season and the cooking method.

These variations in the taste and texture of fruit and vegetables should expose an infant’s palate to a wider range of experience, increasing the likelihood they will accept a wider range of foods.

I found this study fascinating for several reasons.  First, it perfectly dovetails with the other research that shows strong parenting is the best way to battle obesity.   Secondly, I have some personal experience with this.

After having my first child, I decided to make my own babyfood.  Once a month, I would prepare dozens of little packets of pureed fruits and vegetables to freeze.  I was surprised how easy it was and how little time it took.  In addition, I was saving a ton of money by doing it myself.

The fruit was easy–peal, chunk, zap in the food processor. For the vegetables, I would steam them or defrost frozen vegtables then puree with a little chicken broth.  I would taste it and always add a little seasoning to make it taste good; maybe a little salt, some pepper.  I would sometimes add parsley or other fresh herbs for extra nutrients and a punch of green.  These mixtures also had texture. As my babies got older, I wouldn’t puree the fruits and vegetables but pulse them in the food processor. leaving some chunks so that my baby would slowly learn to use his tongue and new teeth to eat.

As quickly as possible, I stopped using these little food packets and simply mashed up whatever it was my husband and I were having for dinner.  Once, I even put a cup of Beef Bourguignon in the blender…he was very happy that night.

Then one weekend we found ourselves in the car a little longer than we anticipated and I bought a jar of babyfood at a drugstore.  Curious, I took a taste. 

What a shock!

While the jarred food didn’t taste bad…it didn’t really taste at all.  It lacked any identifiable flavor, had absolutely no salt or other seasoning, and was as smooth as toothpaste.  Of course, my baby didn’t mind but it made an impression on me.  My baby was experiencing big tastes and textures compared to children fed the jarred food.

Today, my children eat a wide variety of food.  Oh, they still want mac-n-cheese, hot dogs, and a happy meal every once in a while.  But they also love corn and peas and radishes (weird!) and cauliflower (weirder!) and tomatoes and cucumbers.  They can handle it when I add heat to sauces and like all varieties of ethnic food.

Ultimately, this is easier on me. I don’t have to make “special” meals for the kids. We all eat the same thing.  They aren’t fussy and demanding (most of the time) and they don’t insist on eating the same thing every night.

Hopefully more parents will become aware of this study and start their kids off right with some home-cooked meals.  And I hope they realize how easy and how cost effective it is.  Cheaper, easier, tastier for your kids.  That’s pretty compelling stuff. 

Add to that, creating in your child a natural love of healthy food and a lifetime of healthy eating.