My toddler doesn’t eat enough: part 2
Regular readers will know that a few months ago, my toddler didn’t eat enough. In fact he was such a fussy eater that he would only eat a handful of different foods and regularly refused entire meals. (You can read this post here: My child doesn’t eat enough: 8 tips for fussy eating)
At the time, I spoke to Dr Emma Haycraft, who works as a child feeding researcher at Loughborough University and is one of the team behind the Child Feeding Guide app. She said my son had neophobia – or a fear of new foods – and that it’s a very common childhood problem between the ages of 18 months and seven years.
It’s apparently an evolutionary tic, designed to help prevent children from tasting anything poisonous. But some children are clearly dished out a bigger dose than others.
Her advice was that I should keep riding the waves, offering new foods, and that one day my son, then aged two, would emerge, like a butterfly from a chrysalis, eager to pop something different in his mouth. (Actually she didn’t say anything about butterflies, but you get the general idea.)
Trying to beat picky eating
Around eight months later, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s – almost – a happy ending.
It started with a sticker chart. I began rewarding my little boy for tasting new vegetables, giving him special stickers in a bid to pry him out out of his cucumber-only rut.
It worked – he actually tasted tomato, pepper, carrots and celery. I thought we were on a roll and that I’d cracked it. But then he stopped trying anything new. However, by then he was already eating carrot and celery happily so I did allow myself to feel a little smug. (Red pepper and tomato are apparently too yucky.)
We let the sticker chart slide during the summer holidays – cough, cough, forgetful mummy syndrome – but as the weeks pass, I’m noticing that my little boy, now aged three and a bit, is emerging from his neophobia all by himself.
Toad in the hole has long been a weekly fixture in our house because it contains my toddler’s favourite food: sausages. I never cared that he would turn up his nose at the batter – I was just relieved that on those evenings, he would eat at least part of the meal. But in the last couple of weeks, something has clicked. He has started eating the ‘hole’ as well as the ‘toad’. Oh, the joy.
Then there’s chicken. Previously he would always push it away dismissively. No longer. Sometimes he eats it and sometimes not, but you know what? I’m happy with ‘sometimes’ for now – especially as he regularly drinks my Saturday morning breakfast treat of homemade smoothies, which of course look and taste different every week.
And, interestingly, he’s also veered into a whole new territory of different jam and types of yoghurt.
Don’t scoff – it’s progress to learn to love apricot or blackberry jam when you were once a strictly strawberry boy.
So take heart, all those mums struggling with neophobic toddlers. I can tell you that it definitely is a phase. You’re not stuck with a child like this forever.
But, as I’m learning, you DO have to keep serving up a variety of food through this phase: it can take up to 20 exposures for a child to accept a new food, and you never know when they might one day fancy a little taste of this or that. So make sure it’s on their plate, ready and waiting.
Of course, my home doesn’t yet have a fully functioning fuss-free foodie. There are a lot of foods he still won’t eat so progress is slow. Only last week, during our Sunday roast, my son refused everything except the Yorkshire pudding. But this time, I just shrugged. Who knows?
One day, he might even eat a pea.
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