Why do children reject new foods?

Food neophobia is a fear and rejection of eating new or unfamiliar foods. This fear comes from a primitive protective reflex and generally affects children ages 2 to 6 (though it can sometimes extend into adulthood). Fruits, vegetables, and fish are the most frequently concerned foods in food neophobia, which can have harmful health consequences for children if they do not learn to move past their fear as it makes their diet less varied.

What are the causes of food neophobia?

It seems that, for women, genetics are the main determining factor in food neophobia, while for men, environmental factors are more likely to cause it. Several other factors have also been identified, such as parental opposition or even a desire for safety with familiar foods. Furthermore, food neophobia is associated with a less open mind and less pleasure in eating.

How does food neophobia change over time?

Around age 2, nearly half of children adopt neophobic and selective (accepting a restricted number of foods among familiar foods) behaviors. Between ages 2 and 9, neophobic children eat fewer fruits and especially fewer vegetables, in terms of both variety and quantity. In general, their dietary repertoire expands after a period of food neophobia. However, children who ate the least variety in early childhood are also those who eat the least variety later, until the beginning of adulthood. This means there is a higher chance of a child liking a new food if it is introduced before the period of neophobia/selectivity than if it is introduced during that period. Access to a variety of foods should be encouraged from the youngest age possible, unless food allergies are suspected.

The Louis Bonduelle Foundations offers tips likely to get children to open their mouths for a plateful of vegetables in its file, “How to Get Children to Like Vegetables”.