Eating is a very personal experience and food selection (or refusal) is influenced by multiple factors like the child’s eating skills (biting, chewing and swallowing), taste preferences, body awareness, medical history and disposition/temperament. Furthermore, factors beyond the child that impact food selection include the eating environment (both physical and psychological) as well as the sensory aspects of the food itself – eg. it’s look, smell, feel, temperature and appearance. Eating (and learning to eat) can seem a simple task for us. We have been doing it for a very long time. However, eating is a complicated learning experience for children.
The good news is that this is a time when children are learning about their world rapidly. It is a time when they are more mobile, thus, gaining greater independence and autonomy. From an evolutionary point of view, as children became more independent at this age it was a matter of survival to choose known foods and be cautious of new foods. It has been shown that we have not adapted away from this in-built survival mechanism due to recency of food safety improvements.
“Omnivores have the advantage of a variety of food options but face a challenge in identifying foods that are safe to eat. Not surprisingly, therefore, children show a relative aversion to new foods (neophobia) and a relative preference for familiar, bland, sweet foods. While this may in the past have promoted survival, in the modern food environment it could have an adverse effect on dietary quality.”– Wardle & Cooke, 2008
Hence, toddlerhood (usually from 18 – 24 months) sees an intensification of a child’s rejection of foods that are new or unfamiliar. This time also overlaps with the time when the child’s rate of growth and development begins to slow down. In contrast to the height and weight gains of the first year, a toddler does not grow at anywhere near that rate. Thus, their intake needs can fluctuate more and your toddler may have “hungry days” and “not hungry days”. Every child is different in this respect.
There are so many resources that can help you with feeding your toddler.
We recommend completing the free mini-course in our Facebook Group – Parenting Picky Eaters. You can access the transcripts and links to the course on our website here. In particular, Guide Seven: Growing Out of Picky Eating explains the research around growing out of “normal” toddler picky eating.
We also have a range of free information articles here that cover some very pertinent topics for parents of toddlers:
Furthermore, in our paid membership program, we have the following valuable and detailed resources.
Wardle, J., & Cooke, L. (2008). Genetic and environmental determinants of children’s food preferences. The British journal of nutrition, 99 Suppl 1, S15–S21. https://doi.org/10.1017/S000711450889246X
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