I was recently teaching a class of pre-schoolers about cucumbers. Oh the fun we had; food, art, chopping and peeling and a refreshing drink of cucumber water to cool us all down!
I left a couple of the 25 cucumbers I had brought with me (I am Lidl’s best customer!) with the teachers who made cucumber and lettuce soup for the children the following day.
So, what’s my point?
It’s this: children need repeated exposure to a new food before they accept it. It may have to be presented up to 15 times before children will try or like it. Food neophobia is the fear of new foods and is very common among children, especially in the 2 – 6-year-old range.
Food neophobia may be part of the normal developmental behaviour of pre-schoolers. It is a characteristic of 'food fussiness' where young children are selective about what they eat. It may be a survival mechanism for children who are naturally programmed to distrust new foods which may be unsafe or poisonous.
This dates back to prehistoric times when children would have been wandering around in the great outdoors where they had the potential to taste dangerous foods – no Lego, devices or books to keep them occupied then!
The good news is that many children grow out of it... but there might be a lot of dinners in the bin before that happens!
Thankfully, there are ways to deal with it, and here are my top four tips.
1. Children need to be offered a food over and over again to become familiar with it – but offer it in as many different formats as possible like the cucumber and lettuce soup, cucumber in smoothie, raw cucumber with hummus.
2. Offer a “new” food with “safe” foods – eg. If you are introducing sweet potato, add a little to some mashed potato (if they eat them) or try some finely chopped spinach on pizza.
3. Just leave the new food in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves but the adults need to model the behaviour of eating this new food.
4. Allow the child to play with the food away from the table. They can chop and peel it (buy safety knives and peelers for kids here www.thecoolfoodschool.ie/shop). Or just let them use real food for food art or in their play kitchen.
It is so frustrating when you spend time and money getting a meal on the table only for it to be completely refused and, believe me, I know all about it with three of my own. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll know that my children often reject the food I make. But I keep on going – offering them the foods I want them to eat and trying (really hard!) to ignore the leftovers.
Hopefully, you’ll understand a little more now about why children refuse food and you too, can keep going!