What is Food Neophobia? And What You Can Do To Help

What is Food Neophobia? And What You Can Do To Help

Posted by Yumble Team | Posted on Sep 9, 2021 at 10:30 AM

All kids have picky moments, food jags, and certain foods they just won’t eat. What they eat, habits, and relationships around food are based on observations of their environment. Exposures to foods, such as contact, smell, and taste all make an impact on how a child’s relationship with food grows. Some children go through periods of food refusals and picky eating. The grown ups in their home may worry they aren’t meeting nutrient needs and may even wonder if the picky eating is something more.

Picky eating

Picky eating is typically defined as a stage almost all children experience. They may refuse favorite foods, certain textures, smells or even foods with different names. This stage is typically short (around a month for an average food jag). Picky eating does not usually affect psychological or physiological health as the child grows. As the child is eating other foods, from all food groups, they are most likely meeting their nutrient needs. Whereas picky eating is a normal, yet challenging, period in development, food neophobia is more severe.

Food neophobia

Parents may be wondering “What is food neophobia?”. Food neophobia in children, a fear of food, is very different from routine picky eating. Food neophobia is a feeding disorder with severe consequences for both psychological and physiological health. Food neophobia may be caused by biological, environmental, or psychological conditions. These can include but are not limited to genetics, individual personality predisposition, or caregivers attitudes toward foods. Food neophobia is diagnosed between 2-5 years old and typically reduces in severity later in life However, the severity of the food neophobia can alter the relationship with food later in life.

Why do children reject certain foods?

We don’t know why some kids are pickier than others and why some develop food neophobia. It may be a combination of genetics, social environment, and individual personality. We do know children are born to accept sweet foods. Over time, other food preferences for taste and texture develop. Flavors such as salty are often easily accepted by children. Foods such as vegetables are often bitter or bland. Children learn to accept those foods not only through taste but also through social context. For example, watching parents model healthy behaviors such as choosing vegetables will help positively influence a child.

What can you do?

  • Use a non-coercive, play it cool approach when serving new foods.
  • Always offer “safe food”. This is a food that is familiar and always loved by your kiddo. For example, if your kiddo loves ravioli, offer a new food such as broccoli with it.
  • Offer small portions of the new food.
  • Remember an “exposure” counts even if the food just sits on the plate and the child doesn’t eat it.
  • If mixed dishes, such as casseroles, get your little one feeling nervous- try offering a tiny amount of each ingredient on a plate instead of baked all together. Need some quick meals that “don’t touch”. Try tortellini with dried fruit.
  • Model healthy behaviors, such as family meal times, caregivers choosing vegetables, and talking about them in a positive way.
  • Offer new foods routinely to combat neophobia in children. Remember it can take up to 16 exposures of a new food before a child accepts it!
  • If you think your child is experiencing food neophobia, talk to your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will know the best practices for your child.

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