Babies' first tastes of vegetables often don't go well, and understandably so. Some vegetables are a little bitter. Baby food manufacturers have stepped in to help by making products that are a fruit puree mixed into vegetables to make them tastier. This sounds like a brilliant idea, but, unfortunately, it appears to defeat the purpose of introducing your little ones to vegetables.

Vegetables are under-consumed by most people of all ages, despite being an important part of a healthy diet. Parents want their babies and young children to learn to like vegetables and enjoy the nutritional gains that veggies, such as the dark green ones, can offer. So they are often taken in by misleading descriptions on baby food products that tout vegetables mixed with fruit puree.

Learning to like vegetables is an acquired taste, and with babies the key is offering them over and over again.

In a recent survey of commercial baby food products, researchers at Penn State University noticed a lack of variety in the types of vegetables available in baby food. In addition, single dark green vegetables simply were not offered — they were, instead, mixed with fruits or red and orange vegetables to add sweetness, such as Sweet Potato Mango Kale or Pea Carrot Spinach.

To better understand the sensory profiles of Stage 2 baby foods that contain vegetables and how their ingredient composition affects their flavor, 11 adults underwent 14 ½ hours of training in the sensory properties of food. Then they were asked to rate 21 commercial baby foods containing vegetables and one prepared in the laboratory for their flavor, taste and texture.

Generally speaking, the first ingredient in the product drove the sensory profile. Baby food products that contained fruit were sweeter than those that did not contain fruit, but also had higher fruit flavors and lower vegetable flavors. Very few products contained dark green vegetables as the first or majority ingredient, so the dark green vegetable flavor was not dominant in any product.

“If parents don't stop and taste these foods themselves, the front of the package may lead them to think these products taste like vegetables rather than a fruit puree,” said Penn State researcher, John Hayes, in a statement.

There's a good reason why vegetables are not the favorite foods of many people. Their flavor is more bitter, less intense and more subtle compared to many other foods. Salt and fat are sensory attributes that make foods more likeable, and on their own vegetables don’t have those, first author, Alyssa Bakke, also of Penn State, explained.

For babies to learn to like vegetables like broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts and kale, they need to be able to taste them. Including them in a fruit puree is hardly the answer. Parents, you may want to taste that fruit and vegetable product and decide for yourself if it tastes more like fruit or the vegetable you want your child to eat.

Learning to like vegetables is an acquired taste, and with babies the key is offering them over and over again. If your baby turns her nose up the first time she is offered a vegetable, don’t be discouraged. Keep trying. It may take several times before an infant accepts any new food.

If you have trouble finding single vegetable baby foods, you can always make your own by pureeing cooked vegetables.

The study was published in Appetite.