77% of children go through a period of food neophobia, the peak of which is on average between 18 months and 3 years. This refusal to eat new foods, or even foods that your child used to like, is therefore very common even if it forces us to be patient.
What is food neophobia?
Neophobia is the fear of the new. In the field of food, it is the fact for a child to be afraid of all foods that he does not know. As a result, he will reject them altogether and refuse to eat them. It is sufficient for this that he is offered a food presented differently from usual so that he no longer wants to touch it.
Be careful, however, not to confuse caprice at the table (blackmail, taking power over the parent), generally not before the age of three, and food neophobia where the child is really afraid of what is on his plate. ” It is very important not to interpret food neophobia as a whim but as a way of asserting himself, of appropriating his parents’ “no” that he has been hearing more and more since he learned to walk. “, explains Céline de Sousa, culinary chef and infant nutrition consultant.
Food neophobia: a peak around 3 years
The period of food neophobia is between 18 months and 6 years. The peak is around 18 months and 3 years and coincides with the phase of opposition or “age of no”. She touches 77% of children aged 2 to 6and is therefore common and normal.
Signs of food neophobia: why does my child refuse to eat?
From one day to the next, the child refuses almost everything that is offered to him. “ Sometimes this neophobia extends to other areas “, explains Doctor Solsona, a nutritionist specializing in infant nutrition. For example, the toddler wants always the same story in the evening and reject all others. Finally, everything that is new is badly accepted.
Among the characteristic behaviors of food neophobia are:
- Refusing to open your mouth to food
- The turning of the head as soon as an adult holds out food
- The fact of refusing any food without even having tasted it
- The fact of not supporting that the food is mixed
- Spitting out food or even vomiting it up
- The fact of making meals last tirelessly by touching the food with the cutlery but without eating it
In general, food neophobia lasts a few weeks or even a few months. But it actually depends largely on the adults present during the children’s meal. For Doctor Solsona, the more they are calm and neutralthe faster the food neophobia passes.
It can however happen that it lasts several years, but it is fortunately much rarer. This is sometimes the case when children notice that their food refusals give them a certain power over their parents, according to the nutritionist doctor.
In the first place, ” when the child refuses to touch the food, we don’t scold him “, recommends Doctor Solsona. He has above all need to be reassured. You have to tell him that it’s good and show him that we eat it too. If he still does not want to taste, we continue the meal as if nothing had happened.
The child still has the right to a dessert (compote or fruit) because he must not feel punished. ” It is the balance of the child’s meal that must take precedence, he must still eat a little!insists Céline de Sousa. If our child refuses to eat the dish, we do not cook another one, but we do not deprive him of dairy and fruit “.
We also avoid any blackmail of the style: “ If you eat, you will have the right to a chocolate mousse “. You can also tell your child anecdotes, tell him that you have also been there. Ultimately, it is important that the meal takes place more serenely possible.
Solutions to encourage your child to eat
Another possibility to fight against food neophobia is to have all the foods that will make up the meal, from starter to dessert, on the table. ” We explain to our child that there is only that to eat and so he visualizes well what he will have if he refuses to eat something and he can make mixtures: it does not matter that he dips his green beans in her chocolate milk after all! “, reassures the head specialist in infant nutrition.
Moreover, when the food arrives on the plate, it must be known to the child. For this, it is important to involve your toddler because the more he will be in contact with food upstream, the faster the phase of food neophobia will settle. We can thus go shopping with him and make him participate in the preparation of the meal, by entrusting him with small tasks adapted to his age.
Other possibilities: show him a food picture book or create one with him. Finally, the whole family (brothers and sisters, parents, etc.) must eat the same foods as the child to set an example. Eating should not be experienced as a punishment but as a pleasure.
From when to worry and who to consult in case of food neophobia?
It is important not to get discouraged too quickly. ” The key word of this period is patience! The most important thing is that our child tastes a little food, even if he doesn’t eat it all, it’s already a great victory “, encourages Céline de Sousa. Doctor Solsona explains on this subject that there is ” a marked increase in the acceptance of a food when it is presented 8 or 9 times. » Provided, however, that the presentation of the food is the same so that the child can recognize it.
As soon as the child’s growth slows down or stops, we consult our pediatrician. Before, as soon as we are worried as parents, we can seek advice from a health professional, in particular one or infant nutrition specialist. He or she can reassure them, give them courage, and talk with the child. Parents need to feel confident to get through this period as well as possible and know how to accept that, for a while, their child eats little.