Does Your Baby Know Best
When It Comes To Food?
As a nutritionist I have been giving food advice for many years
so it came as a shock when my own daughter, Coco, 2, went from
eating everything put in front of her as a baby to refusing food
at about 14 months. Previous favourites, such as broccoli, anchovies
and olives, were rejected in favour of a diet that comprised only
plain pasta, peas and yogurt.
Why, I wanted to know, do children have phases of fussy
Judy More, a paediatric dietitian, explained to me: This
stage often develops soon after toddlers have begun walking and
can roam farther to investigate their environment. Children
are, quite naturally, afraid of new things at this stage. The
fear of new foods is probably a survival mechanism to prevent
mobile young toddlers from harming themselves. If they were to
have tasted any interesting looking berry on a bush they could
well have poisoned themselves.
It took me a while to grasp the idea that my baby was actually
drawing on ancient survival techniques rather than deliberately
winding me up by refusing nutritious meals, but understanding
that did make our lives easier. However tempting force-feeding
may seem, it can be counter-productive. I found that being patient
was the best approach. Toddlers are not programmed to let themselves
starve and if all they are eating is plain pasta, fromage frais
and the odd pea, they will eat enough to survive, as monotonous
as it seems to a parent at the time.
I was lucky, Cocos neophobia lasted only a couple
of months, though it was swiftly followed by a newfound power
to say no. But with all fads and stages I discovered
that the less I pandered, the more rapidly each period would pass.
From about the age of 3, however, toddlers can suddenly go off
a once-loved food. Again, this could be a protection mechanism.
Your child could be associating the food with something negative
or that made him or her feel bad, such as seeing another child
If your toddler is able to communicate the idea that a food has
become horrible to him or her, it is best to accept
it. It is always possible that presenting it a little while later
in a different form may restore the food to favour.
However, if you have an uneasy feeling that these causes do not
explain your childs fussy attitude, it is important to rule
out other reasons for food refusal. Often children are not hungry
at mealtimes because they are snacking too much in between. Perhaps
they are bored with what is being offered, or possibly are not
feeling great. Being tired or constipated, for example, can put
them off food.
If eating patterns begin to affect normal growth, you need to
consult your GP. You may be referred to a gastroenterologist to
investigate a medical cause for food refusal or to a speech therapist
to ensure that swallowing reflexes are intact. A psychologist
may also help to get to the bottom of things.
If growth is normal, remember that eating with the family and
seeing that you enjoy a wide variety of foods can be an invaluable
learning tool for small children, helping them to grow to embrace,
or at least to try, new and interesting textures and tastes. Research
indicates that the more frequently different foods are offered
to children the more likely they are to eat a varied diet later
on and to widen and develop their palates for life.
Hopefully, both you and your children can pass through normal
phases of fussiness with your and their physical and mental health
For more information see www.child-nutrition.co.uk;
Teach yourself Feeding your Toddler by Judy More, Hodder Education.
February 19, 2010