Taste buds on our tongue register five main flavor categories: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Beyond these, taste is directly related to and intertwined with our sense of smell. Since smells are directly linked to memory centers in our brains, taste is intimately connected to memory as well.
We think we know how something will taste based on prior interactions with foods that look and smell similar. This is how we get those definitive statements of “I don’t like it,’ before we’ve even tried a new food.
Tastes of foods need to be linked with positive memories in order to “like” that food in the future. The best way to do this is with positive praise and steps to ‘tasting’.
Tasting a food is the final step in a progression of becoming familiar and comfortable with a food. We often tell kids to try something as if that is their first interaction with the food and the only way they’ll know if they ‘like’ it.
Maybe a child isn’t ready to put a bite into their mouth, but they might kiss a food and ‘taste’ it with their lips. This is a great step to praise and create a positive memory around interacting with the food!
Maybe your child isn’t ready to taste with their tongue or their lips. You can still introduce the language of ‘tasting’ by having them ‘taste’ with a finger, which is really touching, but is a great step toward tasting with their mouth. Whatever level your child ‘likes’ interacting with a food will provide the comfort level, the stable base, for them to move on to the next level of interaction.
I wish you all so much fun playing, learning and tasting at whatever level your child is ready to experience foods!
Happy food play!