Taste preferences are amazingly adaptable. Other than our innate preferences for sweet and salty tastes, almost all other aspects of what we do and don’t like to eat seems to be the result of experience. Nurture plays a larger role than nature when it comes to food preferences.

Early childhood is, therefore, a significant developmental period when it comes to acquiring tastes. Young children will choose familiar foods, and early exposure to a wide variety of flavors appears to reduce their fear of trying new foods. Toddlers can even be coaxed to feel comfortable with and enjoy new flavors over a period of a few weeks. They may spit out a new cheese on the first taste and then prefer it after two weeks, if the cheese is continually reintroduced during that time.

It is normal for children to have an innate craving for salt and sweets. However, some evidence shows that the diet offered to a child early on may at minimum modify the circumstances in which children will want sweet and salty flavors. For example, six-month-old babies who have been previously exposed to sugar water tend to drink more sugar water than babies who have not been previously exposed to it. This effect lasts a long time. Studies show that even when parents stop offering their baby sugar water by six months of age, the child will continue to prefer the taste of sugar at age two.

It may be that children will always prefer most foods that taste sweeter and saltier, but experience can make a difference by modifying their cravings. A little time may be necessary for a toddler to accept a new, not-so-sweet or less salty food, but with repeated exposure to it, the new becomes familiar and palatable.