by Alan Greene
Babies on the cusp of starting solid foods are going through big changes in their view of the world. Somewhere around four months old, they experience a gradual transformation that is as profound as that scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy leaves the black-and-white world of her Kansas farmhouse and emerges in the Technicolor splendor of Oz. Babies are born seeing mostly in black-and-white along with a few red tones. By the time they are starting to eat solids, their world is becoming drenched with color. Like Dorothy, they're not in Kansas anymore!
Meanwhile, your baby is gaining language and social skills. She responds to sounds she hears by making sounds of her own, and may begin performances of babbling lines of consonants. She recognizes her own name and may begin to understand other simple words ("Good!").
But it goes deeper. She is learning empathy. She studies mirrors. She is learning to interpret emotions underlying your tone of voice. She is learning to read your facial expressions and to make you smile.
Your baby is also making strides in gross motor development, gaining control of the big muscles in her body, learning to roll both ways, to site, and then to move across the floor. She is developing the fine motor skills to manipulate the world from wherever the muscles take her -- grabbing objects, moving them from hand to hand.
These advances are fueled by curiosity. Your baby is no longer content with just seeing, smelling and hearing his surroundings, but wants to explore with hands and mouth, to look for objects hidden from view and to struggle to obtain objects just out of reach. She wants to touch, to grasp, to connect physically with her world.
Her new, deeper curiosity about you and her heightened fascination with objects in general, and colorful objects in particular, creates unique opportunities to introduce her to colorful foods that you enjoy.
These events are fueled by another huge window of opportunity. Between the time that babies start trying to move across the floor and the time they have begun to walk with confidence, there is a marvelous, unrepeatable stage of nutritional development. The tongue-thrust reflex disappears and babies begin to put almost anything in their mouths to sample and explore. It may not matter whether it looks palatable or not. It could be a rock or a small piece of lint: They'll give it a try, make a face and pit it out. If you let them sample something enough times, especially if it's something they see their parents eating, they can more easily acquire a taste for it than at any other period in life.
It reminds me of the scene in The Chronicles of Narnia when the world is young and the soil is so fertile that even a piece of a lamppost will grow. In this season, children are so young and their minds and taste buds so open to possibilities, that an abundance of tastes and preferences can grow.
Inevitable, this window will shut. Usually sometime after they have been walking well for a while, the foods that toddlers will readily accept become limited to some of those they have already come to trust. This is called neophobia, and it can be quite intense.
Again, this makes sense; you wouldn't want a more mobile youngster to toddle away from Dad and Mom for the first time and eat a strange berry. It might be poisonous. Or an unfamiliar leaf. Or a dead animal. Toddlers are designed to be suspicious of new fruits, vegetables and meats. As they should be.
In recent times, many parents have squandered this precious window , introducing their babies to a narrow range of processed flavors. Most of these flavors don't taste like the real foods we want them to eat later. Jarred baby-food peaches, for instance, often taste more like canned peaches than like a real peach. Chances are that when a child who loved baby-food peaches as a baby tries a fresh peach as a toddler, he will reject it as foreign.