From birth, children gradually discover the various smells, textures and flavours of foods. This journey is filled with discoveries and can even be difficult at times.

Depending on their age, children react differently to foods that are offered to them. These behavioural changes are temporary and part of children’s normal development process. For example, some children will not like certain nutritious foods, while others will categorically refuse foods they once ate with enthusiasm. A child needs to taste something an average of 10 to 15 times before warming up to it and then enjoying it.

Offer your child varied and nutritious foods

It is important to offer your child varied and nutritious foods as proposed in Canada’s Food Guide.

Also, encourage your child to help you prepare meals. Children are more likely to taste dishes that they have helped prepare, and they will be proud of themselves.

Respect your child's signals of hunger and fullness

From the moment they are born, infants feel hunger and fullness. It is important to recognize and respect the signals that your child sends.

A child is hungry when he:

  • Chews his hand
  • Says he is hungry
  • Says he has a burning feeling in the stomach
  • Has difficulty concentrating
  • Is particularly irritable
  • Has a rumbling stomach

A child has eaten enough when he:

  • Turns his head away from the food
  • Pushes away the bottle or spoon with his tongue
  • Says he is full
  • Says his stomach is full
  • Shows less interest in the meal or plays with the food
  • Wants to leave the table and go play or do something else

You might worry when your child eats less than usual. Keep in mind that he will not starve and that it is normal for a child’s appetite to change from one day to the next. It is therefore useless to pressure him into eating more, scold him or become exasperated.

Share alimentary responsibilities with your child

Sharing alimentary responsibilities with your child helps him be conscious of signs of hunger or fullness. Also, it helps him develop a healthy relationship with food.

You decide:

  • When and where (place and time of meals and snacks)
  • What (food and dishes to be served)

Your child decides:

  • How much (amount of food he will eat according to appetite and preferences)

If your child does not finish what’s on his plate, do not force him to eat more. Also, do not use food as a reward, punishment or negotiation tool. For example, do not deny your child dessert because he has not eaten the vegetables or forbid him from playing outside because he has not eaten the chicken.

Indeed, restricting or using food as a reward can increase your child’s attraction to, and appreciation of, the food in question. Things that are forbidden are most often more attractive to children than those that are allowed.

When a child is somehow forced to eat food he refuses, it appears to be punishment and his dislike of that food increases. Using food as reward or punishment can make the child feel guilty.

Food neophobia (refusing to taste certain foods)

Your child may refuse to taste certain foods, or he may pick through foods that are mixed together or examine them for a long time. Such behaviour is called food neophobia, and it’s normal. It is a way for your child to deal with his fear of unfamiliar foods. Food neophobia fades over time.

Eat together as a family and enjoy

Eating nutritious meals with family and having fun at the table usually leads to the development of healthy eating habits. Meals and snacks are perfect occasions to spend an enjoyable time with family, laughing and having fun. You can ensure that the atmosphere at the table is pleasant by avoiding arguments and shutting off the television, for example.

You are a role model for your child, so consume, with curiosity and enthusiasm, the same foods he is eating. Talk positively about the food served. Children tend to be more receptive when parents, siblings and friends are eating these foods at the same time as them.

Useful websites

You can get additional information on nutrition for children at the following websites:

General information

Food preferences and neophobia