"Food preferences developed in the early years track throughout childhood and beyond and, therefore, it is critical that vegetable liking is promoted at the very earliest opportunity," the author, nutrition scientist Dr Lucy Chambers, concluded.
During this stage young children "will readily accept new foods and quickly learn to like them", she said. "Offering vegetables exclusively for the first few weeks of complementary feeding offers additional benefits, but survey data indicate that this is not yet commonly practised in the UK."
Chambers urged parents to adopt a "vegetables first, frequently and in variety" approach in their choice of first solid foods, to "steer children towards a lifelong preference for these foods and all the associated health benefits". Yet the UK Infant Feeding Survey has found that currently only seven per cent of parents start complementary feeding with vegetables.
The World Health Organization has placed low fruit and vegetable intake in the top 10 of mortality risk factors for developed countries, she pointed out, though only 35 per cent of the UK adult population, and just nine per cent of older children, reach the Government's recommendation of five portions a day.
Yet "every child has the potential to learn to enjoy eating fruit and vegetables when they are given the opportunity", she said, even though it may take up to eight exposures for an infant to learn to like a given food. The study was part-funded by infant food manufacturer Ella's Kitchen.