If your child refuses to eat certain foods, you’re not alone! If you have ever sat with children to have a meal, you’ll know that children being upset at the dinner table and refusing to eat is a common frustration in many households.
Most parents have heard the research that shows some children need to be served foods as many as 15 times before they decide that they like them; this might be the case with vegetables, but why do they gobble down a six pack of chicken nuggets the very first time they try them? Something doesn’t seem to add up.
We’ve put together some common reasons why children refuse to eat, because knowledge is power and understanding right? We also have some advice to help you combat these problems.
Time and again we hear parents telling us that their child ate something well as a baby but started refusing it as a toddler. Broccoli for example. Does this sound familiar?
Some research suggests that there is a biological factor that causes children to dislike vegetables. It’s the taste, and what that taste implies. A notable feature of vegetables, especially greens and vegetables in the cabbage family, is a slightly bitter taste. This bitter taste is caused by the calcium content, as well as the presence of beneficial compounds such as phenols, flavenoids, isoflavones, terpenes, and glucosmolates.
Not only do children possibly taste this bitterness more strongly than adults, but they also have greater reason to avoid it. In nature, bitterness is a sign of poison and potential toxicity.
Most babies tolerate these vegetables as they’re usually mixed in a puree or mash with something like potato or pumpkin which masks the bitterness. But when they are offered as a whole when baby moves onto solids, the bitter taste becomes more apparent.
According Health Direct, 2 to 3 year old children need to eat 2.5 serves of vegetables a day. You can try Googling ‘hidden vegetable recipes for children’. We’re sure you’ll find some amazing new recipes to add extra veg into your child’s diet, like these ones from Kidspot.
Food Fears and Dislikes
Everything that children do throughout their day is a learning process and trying something new can be worrying for a child. Think of how you respond to trying something new; do you feel anxious, nervous or fearful? This is how a child can feel hundreds of times a day. Even if a child has tried the food before, there may be something else that they dislike about it such as the colour or texture, for example. Or they may not like the sight of foods mixing on the same plate, especially if they are foods they haven’t yet grown to like.
If you are introducing a new food, try only one new food at a time and introduce it when they are hungry. Serve it with a food you know they like, as this will help to create a positive association. Try to vary the way you prepare and present the food until you find a formula that works for your child.
Control and Power Struggles
It’s natural for children to push the boundaries. Early learning includes discovering how to be considerate and cooperative, but also how to choose behaviours that get their needs met in a healthy way. Children will often use eating times to test the limits. If your child is refusing to eat a certain food, throws it on the floor or cries, as hard as it may be, try to remain calm and remember they are learning, and learning takes time. Communicate with your child and tell them why you have offered the food to them.
Another reason your child may be refusing food is if they have seen others do it. Your child will learn from the role models around them, whether that’s their siblings, parents, friends or others. If you refuse certain foods, you can’t expect your child to accept them. Try eating the same foods as your child and encourage those around you to do the same.
Adults are used to eating surrounded by distractions, but a child’s focus is easily diverted. Multi-tasking isn’t their forte because they put so much attention into each individual task while they are learning. So try to maintain their focus on the task of eating. If there are distractions such as a TV screen in their line of sight, turn it off or turn your child away from the distraction.