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How to Cope When Your Child Shows Extreme Food Refusal

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Quick Overview

Some toddlers have an innate, or inborn, resistance to eating a wide range of foods. They may have extreme anxiety about trying new foods (strongly neophobic) or have an extreme reaction to the different senses, touch, taste and smell (sensory-sensitive).

A toddler showing extreme food refusal, distressing her mother

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  • A toddler showing extreme food refusal, distressing her mother
  • Toddler showing extreme food refusal

Details

                 

Guidance & Tips for Parents

                       
                       
                                                   
                       
                           
                               

Things to avoid

                               
                                       
  •                        Do not refuse to give high-energy foods, like ice cream, cakes, biscuits and chocolate, in the hope that your child will eat 'proper' meals and 'healthy' foods.                          
                             Reason: This is not a good way to get your child to eat new foods, and your child might lose weight if you withhold their 'safe' foods.
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  • Do not try to force your child to eat food.                                      
                                     Reason: This will make your child even more anxious at mealtimes, and may cause your child to vomit the food back up.
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  • Leave long gaps between meals to try to make your child more hungry or hide new foods inside foods that your child already likes.
                                     Reason: This will make your child less hungry over time, and may lead to weight loss. Some children can very easily detect new tastes and smells, even when hidden in other foods. Your toddler may just stop eating the liked foods.
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Things that help

                               
                                       
  •                        Encourage your child to experience different textures through 'messy' play every day. Your toddler may find some textures (like Play-Doh) very difficult, so start with textures that they are happy to touch. This may need to be drier consistencies initially, such as rice or lentils. Gradually progress to more messy/wet substances, allowing your toddler to gain confidence. Have plenty of fun and get messy. If you don't like touching certain textures yourself, or don't feel comfortable allowing your toddler to make a mess, then why not take them to a playgroup in your area?
                           Reason: Many children who are extreme food refusers are very sensitive to touch on the hands and mouth, and so will not even pick up new foods. Messy play helps them to get used to new textures.
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  • Give small frequent meals of foods that your child accepts.
                                       Reason: Some children become very anxious at mealtimes and are sometimes very slow eaters. Small frequent meals will help them to take in the calories that they need.
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  • Remember, even children who are extremely faddy eaters usually grow and develop normally, if they are given the foods that they will accept.
                                       Reason: It is important to keep your child growing well, and these extreme food refusers do grow as we would expect them to if they have enough of the food that they will eat.
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     If the problem persists see your GP or health visitor who may refer you to:

   
           
  •      a specialist feeding team if one is available in your area
  •        
  •            a clinical psychologist
  •  
                                     

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Your Questions

My son is very fussy and refuses to eat any meat, pasta, rice, potatoes or veg.

 

He would happily live on crackers with cream cheese or hummus. Any tips on how to get him to try new foods?

 

We have done 'tough love' (eat what's on your plate or have nothing) for six months now and have also tried letting him help me chop all the veg, but the only thing he has eaten is a salmon fish finger!

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