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Reluctant eaters

It is common for tamariki to go through phases when they are hesitant or refuse to try new foods and this can often be associated with increasing independence.

5-year old girl reluctant to eat food

Reluctant eating could look like:

  • refusal to sit at the table
  • resistance
  • tantrums
  • getting up from the table
  • delay tactics – taking an excessive amount of time to eat (i.e. more than 15 minutes for snacks and 30 minutes for main meals)
  • being selective of foods.

Don’t be discouraged and gently keep offering new foods. Repeated exposure is one of the most powerful ways to help babies and young children like a food and the early learning setting is a great place for tamariki to try new foods.

Sometimes a child needs more than 10 positive exposures to a new food before they accept it.

Handy hints:

  • Be an enthusiastic role model – try out new and different foods together. 
  • Create relaxed and happy mealtimes.
  • Avoid pressure and stress at mealtimes.
  • Be mindful of the timing of milk and snacks. Small tummies can fill up quickly if these are too close to mealtimes.
  • involve children in all parts of food gathering and preparation where you can, from gardening and menu planning through to shopping and helping with cooking.
  • When introducing unfamiliar and new foods try pairing these with a familiar food that the child is already comfortable eating.
  • Ask ‘Would you like to try?’ for unfamiliar foods and respect the child’s decision if they say no.
  • End the meal within a reasonable time (e.g. 30 minutes) and clear away the food without comment.

Make food easy and fun to eat:

  • include age-appropriate finger foods
  • include a variety of colours and textures
  • present food in different shapes that are age-appropriate
  • serve child-sized portions – they can always ask for more
  • create imaginative names for foods – call broccoli “tiny trees”.

Remember tamariki may have varying appetites and different food preferences day-to-day. They may eat more or less at certain meals and during certain stages.

When to ask for more help

  • Restricted range or variety: tamariki eats less than 20 foods.
  • Foods lost from diet are not reacquired.
  • Oral-motor delay.
  • History of choking.
  • Aversion to all food of a specific texture or group of foods.
  • Eats different foods to family, often eats alone.

If you are concerned, it is best to discuss with the child’s whānau and suggest seeking professional advice such as GP or Well Child | Tamariki Ora provider for more information.