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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.

What’s changed

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.

Face on a bagel

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.

Read more:

Super-fast vegetable soup for children 
10 ways to get your child to eat vegetables
10 mistakes parents make when brushing their child’s teeth
Ever feel angry with your children? Here are 10 coping strategies to help you defuse


Comments (27)

  • Avatar

    Meg

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    Oh I can so relate to this. Dan famously ate mostly sausage and ham for a couple of years, but I rode it out and now it’s a different story altogether. There are still things he genuinely doesn’t like (mashed potato, strange boy) but his repertoire is so much bigger now, plus he’ll try pretty much anything, and a lot (well, quite a bit) of the time will like it too. Being relaxed about it is definitely the right way to go. Incidentally I spent my entire childhood hating eggs and only really started liking them aged 16, now they’re up there with my favourites…

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Thanks for your comment, Meg. And I agree with you re eggs – I only started liking poached eggs and boiled eggs once I was pregnant for the first time. Before that, I couldn’t abide the smell. Very strange.

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    Jessica Purbrick-Herbst

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    Carole, thanks for giving this a name. Theodore is now 9 and still not great with food. He’s a pasta, Peking duck and pancake man which we put down to his New York lifestyle! We are currently holidaying in Vietnam and his refusal to try all the wonderful new flavours is frustrating but as you said, someday a foodie butterfly will emerge (or he will turn 18 and lead his own life!).
    Thanks again for your blog. Love it!
    Jessica x

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Thanks, Jessica. I’m sure he’ll get better in his own time – but in the meantime, I agree that it’s so frustrating when you’re somewhere with wonderful cuisine and the kids aren’t interested.

  • Avatar

    Sharon Powell

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    It must be so tough when you have children that wont eat, I’m lucky in that all my three have been good eaters. I’m pleased to hear it’s getting better for you x

  • Avatar

    Sonya Cisco

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    All my three went through fussy phases where they wouldn’t try new things and even started rejected old favourites, but they all seemed to come out the other side of it eventually!

  • Avatar

    mellissa williams

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    My son was always suspicious of new food, but he did grow out of it eventually. I bet he will eat a pea one day :)

  • Avatar

    StephsTwoGirls

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    Oh gosh, with two extra fussy girls I know exactly what you mean – the relief that they eat cucumber is immense! No fruit passes my eldest’s lips, and she’s 9 now, but I’m confident it will one day. I figured when they were still quite young that I’d put myself in an early grave with stress if I didn’t relax about food. So I live with two fussy eaters who will get better in their own time, if I keep showing them new things!

  • Avatar

    You Baby Me Mummy

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    It is great that he has made so much progress. Baby doesn’t eat very well and is very fussy. However, she would happily live on peas! x

  • Avatar

    nessjibberjabberuk

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    My son is a lot fussier than my daughter was but I keep persisting with him. I think the key is to keep trying things rather than giving up and just accepting they don’t like it.

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Exactly, I totally agree.

  • Avatar

    Polly

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    my youngest is a fussy eater, has been since she was a toddler. Tbh I don’t like sticker charts, or rewards for etaing or trying new things. She eats mainly healthy foods, and enough for what she needs. I was the same as a child and was ‘encouraged’ shall we say, to try things out, or to eat what I was given and it made me even worse. I’d not eat them just because everyone was so desperate for me to, and I ended up fighting eating disorders for 15 years.

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Interesting to hear your point of view, Polly. I think rewards are fine for trying new things, but we do try to be relaxed about it. I’ll definitely try to be even more relaxed from now on.

  • Avatar

    Rachel

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    This sounds so similar to my hubby. He has a set lot of food he will and won’t eat. If he doesnt like the smell, he won’t eat it, always smells his food before trying it…

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Lol, Rachel! I can just picture it now!

  • Avatar

    Cass@frugalfamily

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    I completely get this!

    My 9 year old is just starting to get more adventurous with his food, it was so frustrating at times but I really tried not to show him my frustration x x

  • Avatar

    stacey kirkbride

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    Both my oldest boys are fussy about what they eat. My 4 year old is extra fussy and he wont eat things unless they’re in certain forms ie chicken in chicken nugget form or fish in fish finger form. Any other form and he wont touch it

  • Avatar

    Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD

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    It’s true that food neophobia is a phase. However, in the 6 years that I’ve worked with families with fussy eaters, I’ve found that many common strategies that parents use can help keep kids stuck in this phase longer than necessary (such as making separate meals). The strategies that I share support kids to move through this phase smoothly and set them up for a lifestyle of choosing to eat healthy foods on their own.
    Kristen
    Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD
    KristenYarker.com

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Thanks, Kristen. Good to hear there are solid tips parents can use to help their kids.

  • Avatar

    Ryan Costello

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    My little one hasn’t yet really reached a fussy stage and fingers crossed he never does. I’d trade for a couple of meals a week though if someone will take him off my hands as he throws his arms around and food sprays everything in sight when he’s decided he’s had his fill!

  • Avatar

    kara

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    Glad you are starting to see results. Isaac is starting to try more foods but still won’t try vegetables and wretches if he tries

  • Avatar

    agatapokutycka

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    Dealing with fussy eater can be so hard at times but we have to try and always search for a new ways to introduce new foods… sometimes it will work, sometimes it will not but we have to keep trying.

  • Avatar

    Zena's Suitcase

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    This is something I’d never heard of, and it explains such a lot! Glad your coming to the end of the tunnel. I agree variety is key

  • Avatar

    Helen @ Witty Hoots

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    I encourage my daughter to just have a try of one thing new. If she really doesn’t like it and it puts her off the rest of her meal then I remove it from her plate. I’m finding texture & smell are a big part of it too. We are quite relaxed about it as my son was the same but now loves strong flavours & has liked sushi since he was 9 yrs old!

  • Avatar

    Joanna Sormunen

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    My son had the exact same problem. At first we got, don’t worry, toddlers don’t need to eat as much as you think. He will eat enough. Until he got anemia. Luckily he’s mostly over it, but he still doesn’t like trying new things.

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      That’s really interesting, Joanna. Sorry you had that experience. I do try to make sure my little boy takes a multivitamin and one of his favourite foods is sausages so he’s getting lots of iron that way.

  • Avatar

    Sarah Bailey

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    Well done to your little one managing to try new things – it must have been very hard and worrying for you. x

Comments are closed