Why do toddlers refuse food?


Following on from an earlier post on ‘How to cope with fussy eaters’, I thought I would write a little bit about understanding food refusal as it can be a very emotive  subject for a lot of parents / carers.

The facts… The first thing to say is that food refusal is a normal part of toddler development and it is nothing that you as a parent have done or have not done! Phew, you can stop feeling guilty now, okay? There are perfectly good reasons why toddlers start to become suspicious of foods and why babies (less than 12 months) are more open to trying new foods:

  • Between the ages of 6 and 12 months, most babies are willing to try new and many different types of foods. They are naturally curious and want to try foods that you and other members of the family are eating. This is why it is so important to use this “window of opportunity” to offer lots of foods for your baby to try the taste and explore the texture. If a baby is not offered a variety of tastes and textures at this stage, they could go on to become fussy eaters.
  • After the age of 1 year, toddlers begin to develop a more cautious or suspicious view on food. This is called the ‘neophobic response to food’, which means that they become slightly wary of trying new foods. It is thought that this is a safety/survival mechanism to protect a child from eating something poisonous.

The good news… But the good news is that most toddlers grow out of this ‘neophobic’ phase and will develop a healthy attitude to foods if they see their siblings and parents/carers eating a wide variety of foods. You can imagine them thinking…“If it’s safe for them to eat, it must be safe for me, right?” The other piece of good news is that a child will need to try a food many times (up to 10-15 times) before they like the food! So if your child rejects a food, don’t give up on that food! Offer it again in a casual way and try the food yourself in front of your toddler. Try to stay as relaxed as possible!

A final note… If your child is an extremely faddy eater or is particularly sensitive to sound, touch or smells, they may be sensory-sensitive. Ask your GP to refer your child to a Paediatrician and they may recommend a Feeding Clinic. If you are worried about your child’s growth, speak to your GP or Health Visitor. I will be opening a Children’s Feeding Clinic soon – If you would like further information, please contact me on: Paula.hallam@yahoo.co.uk P x 


2 thoughts on “Why do toddlers refuse food?

  1. Hi. So glad I found your blog it’s so important to have the right info at hand to make the best decisions for your children! My 11 month old daughter is an extremely picky eater and has always been!! She refuses certain food. Mostly savory foods off a spoon and could never take lumpy good off a spoon. It would literally make her vomit. She goes through stages of what I call hunger strikes. She’s been on one for almost 3 weeks now. She is refusing all spoon foods apart from the occasional yoghurt or pudding off a spoon. She eats by hand but also very selective. Constipation is now a problem too. How do I get her to eat? As a baby she would also overstimulate very easily and I wonder is she isn’t sensory sensitive? But shw loves to be hugged and kissed etc. What are good snacks and foods and when do I get worried? We offer lots off fruits. Vegetables. She lives on peas. How do I know she is eating enough? She seems happy and content. I am cutting her down from 4-3 formula bottles to see of that helps. your insight will be much appreciated

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