Does your toddler refuse to eat anything but junk food?
A reluctance to eat new foods is also known as food neophobia, and is thought to arise from an infant never learning to eat a range of foods or becoming afraid of trying new foods. A Flinders University research study shows that toddlers with greater levels of food neophobia tend to have a lower diet quality eating less fruit and vegetables and have a greater intake of junk food, as parents struggle to get them to eat something.
The research was part of a wider obesity prevention study NOURISH. Led by Flinders and Queensland University, the study monitored nearly 700 mothers and babies from birth to five-years-old. Flinders Research Associate Chelsea Mauch says parents’ perceived that children were less afraid to try new foods when they ate a variety of fruits and vegetables, highlighting the importance of a balanced diet incorporating each food group.
Ms Mauch, said “Variety is just as important as quantity because it opens your palette to different flavours and textures,” she said.
“The take home message for parents is to introduce your children to the colours of the rainbow.
Even if a child eats punnets and punnets of strawberries they could still be quite fussy eaters, even when their adults, if they’re not exposed to a variety of foods, particularly different flavours and textures.”
However, fruits and vegetables can be quite bitter, sour and texturally challenging which is why children with food neophobia tend to consume more junk food. “Kids generally have a natural liking for sweet and salty flavours, which are usually found in junk food, so too much exposure to junk foods will only reinforce their preference for these foods.”
Food neophobia is something that everyone has to some extent but it’s generally strongest between two and six years. “It’s a protective mechanism, it’s there to prevent children from consuming toxic or unsafe foods, peaking of course at an age where they’re most likely to put non-food items in their mouth.
Ms Mauch adds that “although food neophobia is innate, the behaviour can be modified through repeat exposure to new and novel foods.” The current research shows that it may take up to 15 exposures to a food to convince a toddler to like it. “Parents offering a variety of foods over and over again will eventually reduce their child’s fear of new foods.”
Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.