I craved red peppers during both of my pregnancies and both of my kids love eating red peppers. This made me wonder, does the food you eat during pregnancy impact your child’s food preferences?

What does the research show? 

The literature suggests that a mother’s diet during pregnancy impacts her child’s food preferences outside the womb. By 13 to 15 weeks gestation, the fetus is able to perceive smells and tastes while in the womb through the amniotic fluid. Studies have suggested that prenatal exposure to certain smells and tastes may lead to a greater acceptance and sensory recognition of these foods later in childhood. Perhaps the key to getting your child to eat their veggies  may be by eating YOUR veggies during pregnancy! 

What is the significance of this information? 

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is an essential component of chronic disease prevention later in life. Diet is also a key player in a child’s brain development, as malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency can have a negative impact on child neurodevelopment. Therefore, it is important to eat a balanced and healthy diet at all stages of life, especially during childhood. 

Unfortunately many parents have difficulty getting their children on board with eating their vegetables.  Since children are more likely to consume a food if the flavour is familiar to them, maternal diet during pregnancy may be an important aspect of ensuring that your child maintains a well rounded diet in infancy and throughout their childhood. Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy not only has health benefits for the mother, but also for their child! 

Does your post-pregnancy maternal diet have an impact on children? 

Yes, studies have shown that young children can be influenced by their mother’s dietary intake through social learning, where mothers act as role models for their child. For instance, if a child sees their mother consuming foods rich in nutrients, this may increase the likelihood that they will mirror this behaviour and consume healthy foods as well. Modelling healthy behaviours is an important aspect in promoting healthy dietary choices in children. 

This post was authored by Surina Grover, second year medical student at the University of Alberta. This post was reviewed by Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc and Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP.

References: 

  • Ashman, A. M., Collins, C. E., Hure, A. J., Jensen, M., & Oldmeadow, C. (2016). Maternal diet during early childhood, but not pregnancy, predicts diet quality and fruit and vegetable acceptance in offspring. Maternal & child nutrition, 12(3), 579–590. https://doi.org/10.1111/mcn.12151
  • Borge, T, et al. (2019). Estimating the Strength of Associations Between Prenatal Diet Quality and Child Developmental Outcomes: Results From a Large Prospective Pregnancy Cohort Study. American journal of epidemiology, 188(11), 1902–1912. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwz166
  • Hepper, P. G., Wells, D. L., Dornan, J. C., & Lynch, C. (2013). Long-term flavor recognition in humans with prenatal garlic experience. Developmental psychobiology, 55(5), 568–574. https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.21059