Young children sometimes refuse to eat certain foods or types of food. Many factors can contribute to a food aversion, including texture, taste, color and appearance. Some toddlers might even display a food aversion if one type of food touches another on a plate. The aversion could be psychological or it might relate to a food allergy, so take your child to a pediatrician before attempting to deal with the problem on your own.
Food aversions vary in severity. Certain foods might cause toddlers to grimace or cry, or they might cause vomiting, nausea or spitting. Extreme cases require professional help, so bring your child to a pediatrician if adverse reactions are severe or if you fear your child potentially could experience a nutritional deficiency. Keep a journal of your child’s eating habits so you can explain the food aversion in detail.
Don’t reinforce the food aversion. Many parents believe that withholding favorite foods as punishment will force toddlers to give in, but this method can worsen the problem. Also, promising rewards, such as extra playtime or a special toy in exchange for eating disliked foods, can reinforce food aversions.
Your goal should be to relax your toddler, which will decrease the intensity and scope of the food aversion. Instead of disciplining or bartering, remove tension from the situation by eliminating disliked foods from the diet. While this might seem like giving in to the problem, it actually has a beneficial effect. Your toddler won’t be as combative when it’s time to eat, so you can introduce new foods more easily. Now that there is no pressure, incorporate at least one food item your child likes into every meal, along with some other foods for her to try.
Note that eliminating foods to mitigate distress might not work in severe cases. For example, if your toddler has an aversion to all green foods, such as vegetables, she might not get enough vitamins, minerals and fiber in her diet. In this case, follow the recommendations of your child’s pediatrician, who might suggest supplementation with foods fortified with appropriate nutrients or working with a nutritionist to find appropriate dietary substitutes.
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Once the tension is diminished, model the behavior you want to instill by eating healthy foods. Toddlers tend to adopt behaviors they witness. Also, introduce new foods often so your toddler learns to enjoy new types of eating experiences. With positive reinforcement, your toddler will be more likely to abandon current food aversions and less likely to adopt new ones. Get your child involved in meal preparation, too, since she will be more likely to try foods that she has helped to prepare. However, don’t offer new foods during illnesses, or you might create negative associations.
- Diseases and Disorders in Infancy and Early Childhood; Janette B. Benson, et al.; 2009
- “Canadian Family Physician”; Feeding Problems of Infants and Toddlers; Anne-Claude Bernard-Bonnin; October 2006