Introducing flavors across the world - the science behind raising an adventurous eater

By Manasa Mantravadi



Time to Read: 6 min

How To: Raising an Adventurous Eater

Gustation. It’s a fun word right? It is the scientific term for “taste.” We know that there are 5 basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and unami (savory). We actually have receptors in our oral cavity (mouth) and gut to sense taste - they help tell us if we should allow a substance into our body. The human body is pretty amazing and we were born with abilities to keep ourselves safe. For example, we prefer sweet over bitter because well - breast milk is sweet and poison is bitter. See - our taste buds have helped us grow and thrive for centuries. 

Flavor is different - it’s actually an integration of taste, smell and texture. Millions of combinations of these three inputs allow us to experience a wide array of flavors. In fact, over 70% of what we experience during dining comes from smell! There are some common flavors among various cultures. When you think of Indian food for example - you may think of bold and spicy. When you think of French food perhaps you smell the sweetness of freshly baked croissants. When you think about Chinese food - cheese doesn't often come to mind. Some tastes are more common in certain regions of the world than others. 

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Stainless steel is the only kid-friendly material recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics 

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Food Preferences

These preferences are influenced by a variety of factors like genetics, culture, repeated exposures and modeled behavior. Our dietary experiences as infants are extremely important in shaping our food preferences. In fact, this starts when a baby is in utero - the flavor molecules make it from mom’s diet into the amniotic fluid and after the baby is born, into the breast milk. My first hand experience? Asian Pears. I craved and ate these religiously during both pregnancies and my children can confidently say their favorite fruit is … yup, asian pears. 

In fact, babies form taste patterns by 9 months but they also change over time. During early childhood, infants are more likely to accept new foods, so promoting a varied diet and curiosity towards foods decreases the likelihood of picky eating in toddlerhood. Developing this love of adventurous eating should start from the initial stages of the food journey as parents introduce solids. After the age of 3–4 years, dietary patterns/food habits remain more stable, so starting early is crucial!

There are plenty of examples of food that is acceptable to one culture but completely novel to another culture. Corn fungus (Mexico), developing bird embryos (Philippines), a giant rat (Togo), and jellied eels (UK) are all examples that were shown in National Geographic when discussing foods across the world. Children raised in China experience many more textures than children raised in the USA. In Ethiopia beans are roasted and passed around to smell the aroma as part of the dining experience. So, the form of preferences for certain tastes, textures and smell stem from the culture we are raised in - our preferences start in our home. 

Mealtime Essentials

Tips for Adventurous Eating

So, how can you raise an adventurous eater who experiences flavors across the world?

  • Introducing a variety of colors, flavors and textures as babies start their food journey can help combat picky-eating during the toddler and school years. 
  • Offer and offer again. Repeated exposures are needed - at least 8-10 times (often up to 15) - over time before babies (and children) get used to a new flavor. However, repeated offering doesn’t mean repeated forcing. Tip: You can use ingredients in the meals in another setting (using veggies to create art and jewelry) to help familiarize children in a low-stress way beyond the dining table
  • Expand on certain flavors your child does enjoy. For example, if your child enjoys a particular taste - you can incorporate that into a new recipe from a different region of the world to slowly introduce a new texture. Or if they like a specific texture, you can choose different tastes from a recipe stemming from a different culture. 
  • Make the dining experience holistic. When children are involved in meal preparation, they are more likely to eat the meal to which they contributed. Talk about the region of the world the recipes are from, listen to music from that area, and learn about traditions and customs that families from that country may participate in. All of this breeds a broader view of the world and each other through food! (We do this with our meals and it makes dining such a fun and interactive experience for the entire family)

So while you may not be introducing squid at your next family dinner, you can slowly but surely start your adventure across the world through mealtime. Cheers to happy healthy eating friends!

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi is a board-certified pediatrician whose dedication to children’s health drove her to launch Ahimsa, the world's first colorful stainless steel dishes for kids. She was motivated by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ findings on harmful chemicals in plastic affecting children's well-being. Ahimsa has gained widespread recognition and been featured in media outlets such as Parents Magazine, the Today Show, The Oprah Magazine, and more.

Dr. Mantravadi received the esteemed “Physician Mentor of the Year” award at Indiana University School of Medicine in 2019. She was also named a Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneur in 2021, with her inspiring story showcased on Good Morning America. She serves on the Council for Environmental Health and Climate Change and the Council for School Health at The American Academy of Pediatrics. She represents Ahimsa as a U.S. industry stakeholder on the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the Global Plastics Treaty, led by the United Nations Environment Program. Dr. Mantravadi leads Ahimsa's social impact program, The Conscious Cafeteria Project, to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard student health as part of a national pilot of the Clinton Global Initiative.

She is dedicated to educating and empowering people to make healthier, more environmentally friendly choices at mealtime. Her mission remains to advocate for the health of all children and the one planet we will leave behind for them through real policy change within our food system.

More Mealtime Essentials

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I use stainless steel instead of plastic? Is stainless steel better for health?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report in July 2018 suggesting ways that families can limit exposure to certain chemicals at mealtime, including “the use of alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.” The report explained that “…some additives are put directly in foods, while “indirect” additives may include chemicals from plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard”. Further, “Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing.” While stainless steel items meet the recommendation to avoid plastic products in children, Ahimsa® products have the obvious advantage of not breaking like glass.

Is stainless steel better for the environment than plastic?

According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel can be recycled over and over and over again without losing its integrity and requires less energy to recycle than to make anew. Most plastic unfortunately ends up in landfills and it is estimated to take 700 years to decompose. Our special coloring process that allows Ahimsa® products to be fully metal is environmentally friendly, so it does not produce toxic run-off into the ecosystem.

Will Ahimsa products break or peel?

No. Our steel is durable, so it won’t break or shatter with everyday use, like glass. And it won’t peel, like other colored stainless steel products you’ve seen. We use a special process that allows the colors to naturally occur in the metal.

Which Ahimsa products are best for my little one(s)?

Our products are meant to last, you can use Ahimsa at ages 1, 8 and 18! We thoughtfully design our products to be safe for little ones and our planet while reducing consumption. Once your child outgrows the Starting Solids Set  and can use regular cups and utensils, the training cup is the perfect size rinse cup in the bathroom, the infant spoon doubles as a tea stirrer and the bowl is great for snacks or as an additional compartment to our modular divided plate. Our plates are great for any age as they encourage choosing a variety of healthy foods at each meal and help visualize portion sizes easily. It’s the lasting beauty of stainless steel - grows with your child and reduces waste.

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