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Food neophobia in children: we tell you everything

Food neophobia in children: we tell you everything

Does your child swear by pasta or fries and stubbornly refuse the new foods you offer him? He may be suffering from food neophobia. Discover all the tips for getting through the food neophobia phase without declaring war at the table!

No matter how much you insist, get angry, threaten, scold: your child is stubborn! He grimaces at his plate of green beans, sulks at his halibut and sanctions your dish of stuffed tomatoes with a “I don’t want it, I don’t like it“.

A frequent situation since 78% of children aged 2 to 7, with a peak at the age of 31, are going through an episode of “food neophobia”, a phenomenon which consists of refusing any new food in favor of products they know well (pasta, rice, fries, ground beef, etc.), deemed to be more reassuring. This situation is not specific to the human species: some animals, such as monkeys and birds also go through this!

What is food neophobia?

It’s a confusing stage of child development which consists of rejecting all foods newly introduced into one’s diet or even presented in different ways. For example, if your little one likes grated carrots, he may still develop a neophobia in front of these same carrots cooked in the form of mashed potatoes or cooked in slices. This fear of new foods is particularly disabling and often a source of anxiety for parents.

The term neophobia comes from “neo”, new, and “phobia”, fear, and translates into a fear and/or rejection of new foods.

“Sometimes it is even enough to add a sprig of parsley to a dish that is well known to children for them to consider it new and ostensibly close their mouths when you approach the spoon!”says Raphaël Gruman, dietitian-nutritionist.

In some, neophobia can also manifest itself depending on the food color : some will only want to eat those of white color, such as rice, pasta, chicken… and will refuse anything that is green such as beans, salad, green vegetables and peas, as if they had fear. “However, there are several levels in food neophobia because while some children will persist in not wanting to taste it at all, or even spit out the food if the parent has managed to introduce it into the mouth, some, more adventurous , will start by crushing the food, turning it in all directions, smelling it… before agreeing to eat a very small part of it”, says Raphaël Gruman. While this attitude is certainly particularly unpleasant, it is in no way directed against you and should not be confused with a whim (blackmail, taking power): it is an adaptive mechanism, a protection against live with a possible toxicity, and therefore a fear.

To sum up, food neophobia is the reluctance and/or rejection and/or fear to eat new foods, which will result in a different behavior of the child with regard to food. He will then spend more time observing, crushing, smelling the food, even refusing it categorically.

There are several levels of food neophobia intensity : some children show a reluctance to taste new foods, and this from the age of 6 months. But food neophobia in babies is quite rare. However, the 18-24 month period is more affected by food neophobia. For example, they will turn their heads if the spoon approaches or close their mouths, even push and throw the plate.

  • Grade 0 neophobia is manifested by a reluctance to eat, it is called flexible neophobia. The child seems reluctant to eat, or will taste with lip service before refusing.
  • Rigid neophobia is manifested by the total refusal of any new food.
  • Finally there is food hyperselectivity, where the child eats very little food. Due to the dangers to one’s health, consultation with a doctor in the event of hyper-selectivity is essential to find solutions and avoid deficiencies.

What attitudes should be adopted in the face of food neophobia?

Already, the first good news, neophobia is a normal stage of development in children and in no way constitutes a developmental disorder. Second good news, this period only lasts a few weeks, a few months at most. While waiting for everything to be back to normal, here are some tips to make meals go as smoothly as possible.

No need to force it

“Studies showing that this behavior would rather reinforce the aversion for refused foodsexplains the expert. Accept the refusal without getting offended, angry or blackmailed such as “if you eat a little, you will be entitled to chocolate for dessert”.

Instead, encourage him to express his tastes: “Why didn’t you like it: is it too salty, too strong, too bitter…? And these vegetables, what do you think?“. An attitude that empowers him and will allow you to offer the food differently. If he still does not want to taste it, continue the meal as if nothing had happened without trying to offer him something else, as a replacement. On the other hand, the child must still have his milk and his fruit at the end of the meal, because he must not feel punished.

We must insist… gently

Do not give up ! Studies by Dr. Andréa Maier, a nutritionist expert in the development of taste, have revealed that the repeated exposure of a child to a food hitherto refused made it possible to overcome his reluctance and make him accept it. After three attempts, 10% of children eat it without complaining, after eight attempts, they are 75%! So try the experiment again… but with creativity. The fish can be more appreciated in papillote, in crumble, in quiche, and the meat presented in small balls to be pricked or in bolognese. He doesn’t like yogurt? Perhaps he will agree to consume a petit-suisse or a sweet white cheese with a coulis of red fruits, a teaspoon of honey or agave syrup, or even prepared in the form of a panna cotta.

Use imitation

The child will be all the more tempted to taste the dish if he sees that everyone is eating it. If he sees his parents, his friends, his brothers and sisters consuming it with pleasure, he will be more tempted to do the same and his fear will decrease.

Let them explore food

Children are often told not to play with food… On the contrary, they shouldn’t hesitate to let them explore this new dish: stir the food, smell it… all the more so if, in the end, they agree to bring some to his mouth. And after all, don’t we do the same when we are presented with a new dish, asking what ingredients it contains and only tasting a small piece of it, sometimes even with a piece of bread? ?

Presentation matters too

Because a dish is “tasted” first with the eyes, also remember to present your plate well. For example, around 2 fried eggs, placing green beans as hair, two slices of tomato for the ears, a carrot stick for the mouth and sometimes a few lettuce leaves to make a beard can help the child. to taste, without cries or tears. A few cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices and sprigs of chives can also make for a gourmet crab game.

Involve him in the preparation of the meal

According to an Interfel study, 29% of children say that cooking with their parents makes them want to eat! So, from 4-5 years old, you can give them a few simple tasks to perform such as mixing the ingredients with the wooden spoon, pouring the food into the salad bowls, buttering a mold…

Diversify food… in utero

Studies have shown that, during pregnancy, exposing the fetus to various aromatic compounds will partly develop its taste. Thus, at the age of dietary diversification, foods already encountered in utero would be better accepted2.

To learn more about the tips to adopt to help your child eat everything, we recommend the book: I help my child eat everything, published by Hatier.

When should you worry?

“If this period continues for so long that it has an impact on the child’s growth or the child loses weight, consult his pediatrician. If necessary, he can refer you to a nutritionist specializing in small children. childhood that will ensure that no eating disorder hides behind neophobia”, recommends Raphaël Gruman.

Food neophobia in the baby is however more worrying, since at this age, he is still fed mainly with breast or infant milk, and is only at the beginning of food introductions. In this case, it is preferable to follow his weight curve carefully and to ensure that he has no deficiencies.


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