Food neophobia. This is what the reluctance to eat new foods is called. Normal phase of child development up to 6 years, it can be easily supported, reassure pediatricians.
Do you despair of one day seeing your child feast on something other than shells? Good news: it will probably happen eventually. Because food neophobia, or the fear and/or refusal of new foods, does not last forever. Above all, it is perfectly normal and frequent from 18 months to 6 years. It is even found in other animal species, such as rats, monkeys and certain birds, indicates the French Association of Ambulatory Pediatrics on its website.
“The rejection does not occur during the tasting but before by the sight, the smell, the touch of the food”, specify the specialists. It is also common for certain foods, after being accepted, to suddenly become undesirable. This is particularly the case of vegetables, fruits and fish, “while foods with a high caloric density, certain meats and sweet foods remain appreciated”. And, of course, the shells.
It is possible to act upstream, in order to “prevent” food neophobia: “at the age of diversification (between 4 and 6 months, editor’s note), foods whose aromas have already been encountered in utero or during breastfeeding are more accepted”. Indeed, from pregnancy, the fetus is exposed to the flavors and aromas of the food ingested by its mother. This is also the case when she chooses to breastfeed. If his diet has been sufficiently diversified, then the child will be more open to these aromas and flavors, since he will have already encountered them.
But how do you get new foods accepted? The French Association of Ambulatory Pediatrics recommends offering a new food at least 8 times to a baby (up to 15 to a larger child), “without constraint”. Another advice: “it is preferable that the foods be offered one by one during the first months of diversification so that the child learns the taste and texture of each food”. Sour or bitter flavors, and grainy or sticky textures are the ones that require the most patience.
And then ?
As we have said, distrust of new foods can last for a few years. So to prevent every meal from turning into a rat race, here are some tips:
- Have meals with the family, without television, in order to better accept new textures and flavors. Communal meals with other children can also help a lot. Conviviality and imitation favor discovery;
- Educate the child to taste, so that he associates food and pleasure: “the child’s participation in the market and in the preparation of meals is recommended to teach him to know food: he will appreciate it more”;
- Do not force your child if he refuses to eat. Offer to taste the food again and again, for example by changing its presentation. Very important, “it is necessary to respect the rhythm of 4 daily meals and not to replace a food refused by another, nor to compensate the refusals by snack foods between meals”;
- These food refusals should not take up all the space. The French Association of Ambulatory Pediatrics recommends on the contrary not to monitor what the child eats, and to “show no concern if he has eaten little”. Adapt the size of the proposed portions, do not punish him if he has not eaten enough and do not reward him in the opposite case. Clearly, if he feels that the issue of food is important for his parents, the child understands that by refusing it, he can have power over them “and he can play with it, especially if he has a strong personality.
What if the problem persists?
If the child over 6 years old persists in eating only one type of food (neither fruits nor vegetables), with a risk of deficiency and slowing of growth, then it is not a question of a food neophobia (transient and reversible), but of a “pathological, long-lasting and rare” behavior which requires medico-psychological care. If your child is affected, talk to their doctor.