“I don’t like that!” This has been my two-year-old niece’s response to almost everything I have placed in front of her this weekend. This morning’s reject: homemade waffles with strawberry sauce. This coming from a child whose favourite food is pancakes. I want to explain to her that they contain the same ingredients, but are just cooked in a different shape.
Around the age of two, about 50 per cent of children are predisposed to neophobia – or fear of the new. This is thought to be an adaptive mechanism to prevent harm as the growing infant begins to move around and explore the world. Unfortunately for parents, this can coincide with a time when toddlers are able to voice their opinions and independence.
What can you do?
Luckily, this rejection of new foods is transitory and can be changed by providing repeated opportunities to eat the food in the absence of pressure. This is termed “learned safety.” Parents are encouraged to continue offering new foods, but allow your child to decide whether or not they will eat them. Forcing your child to eat new foods can result in learned aversion – which I have discovered, can last into their adult years.
Food acceptance is also modified by social influences. Children learn to prefer foods eaten by their parents, peers or even fictional heroes. Therefore, if you want your child to like a new food, they must perceive that the people around them also like to eat this food.
If Daddy does not eat his broccoli, then you can expect your child to do the same.
The idea behind introducing new foods is creating positive associations with that food for your child. Power struggles and coercion around food and meal times should be avoided. Remember parents are responsible for what, when and where food is offered (preferably a healthy variety of foods, at regular times, around a table) but children are responsible for how much, or whether food is eaten at all.
Halfway through the breakfast, after we were all enjoying our waffles, my niece decided it would be safe to try them – and proceeded to eat four of them! It has made me appreciate my own daughter, who cannot yet talk and has only one choice of food to eat.