The Role of Dietary Experience in the Development of Eating Behavior during the First Years of Life

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Abstract

Infants are born equipped to ingest nutrients, but because of the transitions in the mode of feeding in the first years (from “tube” feeding in utero to eating table foods with the family), they have to learn how, what and how much to eat. Eating behavior established during early years may follow throughout childhood; therefore, it is fundamental to understand the most important drivers of the early development of eating behavior. Beyond the first flavor discoveries during the gestational and lactation periods (through the infant's exposure to flavors from foods of the mother's diet), the most important phases for learning food preferences and appetite control may be the beginning of complementary feeding (CF). Infants discover the sensory (texture, taste and flavor) and nutritional properties (energy density) of foods that will ultimately compose their adult diet. This brief review shows that several feeding practices influence the development of eating behavior: breastfeeding; repeating the presentation of a food, even if it seems initially disliked; introducing a variety of different foods rapidly in the CF process; offering foods in an appropriate way to make their sensory characteristics appealing to infants. More research is needed to understand in a combined way the effectiveness and long-term effect of these practices to promote healthy eating behaviors.

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