Food Neophobia, What’s That?

Children and family
Child with a pink shirt eating cereals with milk

Children reject unknown foods and that’s what we call food neophobia. Keep in mind that liking sweet and salty things is innate. You’ll need to be patient to make them discover acid, sour and even umami, the fifth basic flavour.

Obstacles That Children Might Face

Children have a more limited ability to chew, therefore textures can represent an obstacle. Also, their taste buds are more sensitive so their culinary experience is more intense. It could take up to seven contacts for a child to decide to eat a certain food, sometimes even more tries.

Set the Example

You can serve as a model and eat the food that’s new to your child in front of them and show them your appreciation. Never force your child, show them the food and offer them to taste it. If it doesn’t work, try again later. Let your child tame the different tastes at their own pace. You could also tell them that it’s grown-up food and that they're too young to enjoy it, your child’s attitude might change. It is also very important to eat in a relaxing and pleasurable environment.

Here Are 7 Little Tips to Facilitate Food Discovery:

The key message : You are responsible for the quality of food and your child is responsible for the quantity. Don’t worry, children almost always eat according to their hunger cues and very well know how to regulate their food intake with their energy levels. If they eat less for lunch, they’ll eat a bit more at dinnertime and vice-versa.

  1. Offer one single food at a time.
  2. Bring your child to the grocery store and invite them to cook with you. They’ll feel involved and will more easily be willing to taste new things.
  3. Do not prepare them a special meal because they don’t want to eat, they’ll become more demanding and more picky.
  4. Give them a small portion of dessert if they’re still hungry, and that, even if they did not finish their plate. Dessert and other foods are rewards to adopt. This attitude defuses your child’s aptitude to acknowledge their hunger and fullness cues.
  5. Cut their food in small pieces so that they can go at their own pace, and offer at least two different vegetables so that they think they have a choice.
  6. Avoid giving them a snack two hours before a meal, a snack would cut your child’s hunger and prevent them from truly enjoying their food. Also watch ‘’appetite suppressant’’ food like juices, sodas or snack foods that they eat between meals.
  7. Adopt a healthy attitude towards food. Do not punish them, avoid criticizing and encourage them to learn. Children often change their minds and like X food one day and the next day, they hate it. Avoid pressuring and remember that the eating habits you’re instilling in them right now will follow them their whole life.

To conclude, have fun grocery shopping, cooking and eating with your child. Participation is the key to the success of acquiring healthy eating habits. Opt for 3 meals per day and snacks depending on your child’s needs. They’ll feel secure and more inclined to try new flavours. Dare to bring new colours, flavours, textures and odours to their plate as it will ensure your child is getting plenty of vitamins and minerals which will then reduce the chances of nutrient deficiencies. Make meals fun and enjoyable: exchange together about the flavours, textures, smells, shapes and colours of your food. Finally, discuss aversions and preferences and exchange about the pleasure of food discovery.

Bon appétit !

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist