Picky-eating tot or does he fear new foods?

Refusing his food doesn’t always mean your tot is a picky eater, he might be afraid to taste something new…

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First-time mum Cassandra Lee, 35, couldn’t be more excited when her son Tristan turned 6 months ― he’d be starting on solids! Armed with the latest weaning recipes scoured from websites and cookbooks, she painstakingly prepared every one of his meals from scratch.

Tristan’s daily diet was fit for a king ― strawberry, prune and mango purée for breakfast, baby pasta in pumpkin sauce for lunch and salmon for dinner. Lee recalls, “He would lap everything up and that made me even more eager to try all kinds of recipes…it was such a fun time.”

But it all came to an abrupt end a few weeks after Tristan turned 12 months. He started refusing to eat his usual favourites, choosing instead to open his mouth only for bland staples like bread and plain white rice.

“I tried all kinds of tactics to get him to try new foods, going to the extent of cooking with expensive ingredients like ricotta cheese and quinoa ― even then, he wouldn’t budge,” Lee laments. “Tristan just turned 2 and although it’s gotten slightly better, the ‘battle’ is still ongoing and it’s driving me nuts.”

Food refusal often rears its ugly head at around 12 or 13 months when your kiddo is old enough to assert his independence.

Food refusal often rears its ugly head at around 12 or 13 months when your kiddo is old enough to assert his independence. He wants to decide what he wants to eat, when he wants to eat it and how he want to go about doing so. If he doesn’t get his way, junior would rather dig his heels in and not eat. But this doesn’t necessarily mean your little one is fussy feeder or doesn’t like food, it could actually be a case of food neophobia ― a fear of trying a new food, experts say. 

Force-feeding your little one could turn mealtimes into a battle zone. Instead, you can help him get back on track by understanding why your once voracious eater is suddenly averse to new tastes.

To learn more about this misunderstood issue, SmartParents speaks to four feeding experts at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH): Senior occupational therapists Donabel Baskaran and Jo Chen, as well as senior speech therapists Maria Concepcion and Stacy Tan.

Why is refusal of food more common in some toddlers than others?
KKH: Feeding is a complex activity that involves many different skills. Some toddlers may be more sensitive to certain tastes and textures of foods presented. This could have an impact on their acceptance of new types of food. Toddlers with a history of negative associations to feeding ― such as vomiting or force-feeding ― may also be more cautious about trying new food. Late introduction of a variety of tastes and textures during the weaning period may also cause a child to refuse new food.

Click through to get to the bottom of food neophobia…