WOMEN who eat healthy food while pregnant or breast-feeding can give their children a life-long taste for it, researchers have found.
The study could spell the end of dinner table battles as parents try to convince youngsters to eat fruit and vegetables.
Pregnant women are being urged to adopt a stealth approach to familiarising their unborn offspring accustomed to foods such as broccoli, cabbage and sprouts, which they may otherwise reject when they are growing up.
Julie Mennella, of the Monell Chemical Senses research institute in Philadelphia, said: "Flavours from the mother's diet are transmitted through amniotic fluid and mother's milk. A baby learns to like a food's taste when the mother eats that food on a regular basis."
In one experiment carried out by the institute, a group of pregnant women were given a lot of carrot juice. After birth their children were keener on carrots than those of women who had not been given the juice.
The technique worked just as well with fruit. The children of women who ate raw peaches while pregnant were more likely to enjoy them.
Another trial was carried out on new mothers who were breast-feeding. The women started eating green beans and their children were offered them as well.
At first the children, who were eating solids, rejected the beans, but after a period of their mothers eating them regularly they started to accept them.
"Babies are born with a dislike for bitter tastes," said Mennella. "If mothers want their babies to learn to like to eat vegetables, especially green vegetables, they need to provide them with opportunities to taste these foods."
The findings are backed by a second study, carried out in France, which found that the children of mothers who drank aniseed-flavoured fluids, were more likely to accept the taste of aniseed as children.