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      How Infants and Young Children Learn About Food: A Systematic Review

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          Early childhood is a critical time for establishing food preferences and dietary habits. In order for appropriate advice to be available to parents and healthcare professionals it is essential for researchers to understand the ways in which children learn about foods. This review summarizes the literature relating to the role played by known developmental learning processes in the establishment of early eating behavior, food preferences and general knowledge about food, and identifies gaps in our knowledge that remain to be explored. A systematic literature search identified 48 papers exploring how young children learn about food from the start of complementary feeding to 36 months of age. The majority of the papers focus on evaluative components of children's learning about food, such as their food preferences, liking and acceptance. A smaller number of papers focus on other aspects of what and how children learn about food, such as a food's origins or appropriate eating contexts. The review identified papers relating to four developmental learning processes: (1) Familiarization to a food through repeated exposure to its taste, texture or appearance. This was found to be an effective technique for learning about foods, especially for children at the younger end of our age range. (2) Observational learning of food choice. Imitation of others' eating behavior was also found to play an important role in the first years of life. (3) Associative learning through flavor-nutrient and flavor-flavor learning (FFL). Although the subject of much investigation, conditioning techniques were not found to play a major role in shaping the food preferences of infants in the post-weaning and toddler periods. (4) Categorization of foods. The direct effects of the ability to categorize foods have been little studied in this age group. However, the literature suggests that what infants are willing to consume depends on their ability to recognize items on their plate as familiar exemplars of that food type.

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            Complementary feeding: a commentary by the ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition.

            This position paper on complementary feeding summarizes evidence for health effects of complementary foods. It focuses on healthy infants in Europe. After reviewing current knowledge and practices, we have formulated these conclusions: Exclusive or full breast-feeding for about 6 months is a desirable goal. Complementary feeding (ie, solid foods and liquids other than breast milk or infant formula and follow-on formula) should not be introduced before 17 weeks and not later than 26 weeks. There is no convincing scientific evidence that avoidance or delayed introduction of potentially allergenic foods, such as fish and eggs, reduces allergies, either in infants considered at increased risk for the development of allergy or in those not considered to be at increased risk. During the complementary feeding period, >90% of the iron requirements of a breast-fed infant must be met by complementary foods, which should provide sufficient bioavailable iron. Cow's milk is a poor source of iron and should not be used as the main drink before 12 months, although small volumes may be added to complementary foods. It is prudent to avoid both early ( or=7 months) introduction of gluten, and to introduce gluten gradually while the infant is still breast-fed, inasmuch as this may reduce the risk of celiac disease, type 1 diabetes mellitus, and wheat allergy. Infants and young children receiving a vegetarian diet should receive a sufficient amount ( approximately 500 mL) of breast milk or formula and dairy products. Infants and young children should not be fed a vegan diet.
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              Core knowledge.

              Human cognition is founded, in part, on four systems for representing objects, actions, number, and space. It may be based, as well, on a fifth system for representing social partners. Each system has deep roots in human phylogeny and ontogeny, and it guides and shapes the mental lives of adults. Converging research on human infants, non-human primates, children and adults in diverse cultures can aid both understanding of these systems and attempts to overcome their limits.

                Author and article information

                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                25 July 2017
                : 8
                1Danone Nutricia Research Utrecht, Netherlands
                2School of Health and Related Research, Section of Public Health, University of Sheffield Sheffield, United Kingdom
                3School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading Malaysia Iskandar Puteri, Malaysia
                Author notes

                Edited by: Caroline Braet, Ghent University, Belgium

                Reviewed by: Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, University at Buffalo, United States; Laura Nynke Van Der Laan, Utrecht University, Netherlands

                *Correspondence: Carolus M. J. L. Vereijken carel.vereijken@

                This article was submitted to Eating Behavior, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

                Copyright © 2017 Mura Paroche, Caton, Vereijken, Weenen and Houston-Price.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                Figures: 1, Tables: 6, Equations: 0, References: 105, Pages: 33, Words: 23095

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry

                eating habits, development, food preference, learning, infant, toddler


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