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My child refuses to eat, what should I do?

by | Jan 26, 2021 | Kitchens, Special Edition, Kids, Lifestyle, Parents, Psychology

Is your child refusing to eat? Let's go back to the very beginning, the first time he closed his mouth and wasn't willing to cooperate. Why did this happen? Well, there are several reasons and several hypotheses: he wasn't hungry, he doesn't like the food, or he is testing his free will? Whatever the reason in this type of situation, your reaction will have a great impact on the next steps and on his relationship with food. That's why Kidlee accompanies you in this situation that many parents dread. We'll explain the reasons why most children don't want to eat. Then we'll look at your options for dealing with this, as well as what not to do. 

Do you know about food neophobia?

First of all, it is important to know that refusing to try new foods is normal and usually happens to three quarters of children. This phenomenon appears from the age of 2 years: it is called food neophobia. Neophobia appears in children between the ages of 2 and 10 and is therefore expressed by the fear of trying new foods. Beyond that, it is from this age that they learn the famous 'no', and that they decide to use it all the time!

To come back to neophobia, it is very frequent and instinctive in children. However, it is not necessary to make a big deal of it (to remain in the context). Your weapon will be patience, perseverance and benevolence. After all, it's just a stage to overcome! And then somewhere, the child also seeks to assert itself and to forge its small character. Let him the possibility to assert himself. Moreover, depriving him of this and using force risks developing an unhappy relationship between the child and the food.

Tips for the child who refuses to eat:   

Child refuses to eat: a little girl cooking with her babysitter
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All at the table:

Share good times with your family around a good meal. Eating together is also very important to provide a pleasant and healthy environment for the child. However, avoid distractions and teach your child to enjoy family meals. 

Share the pleasure you get from eating: 

Do not put yourself in the position of the executioner but rather accompany him to "discover" new foods. He must understand that it is a moment of pleasure where we discover flavors through the tasting of different foods and different tastes. Each dish has its own story, its own recipe, its own benefits, so make him love food without pressure and gradually! 


Both parents should be exemplary at the table and eat everything that is served with appetite. Children absorb and are inspired by their parents' actions. Eat the foods he doesn't like without forcing him to eat. On the other hand, if he has refused several times, continue to expose the food without offering it to him. Then gradually bring it up again, but always without pressure.

Play with the presentation of the dish:

food presented in a playful way, in the form of funny monsters for children

Presenting the food that your child fears in a different fun and attractive form will allow the latter to set references and thus lower his guard. 

As soon as a categorical refusal appears, change the way you present the food. Offer it to him raw, cooked, in a gratin... preferably in small quantities and with an attractive presentation, to put all your chances on your side. You can also mix it with foods he likes. And maybe he'll end up eating it without realizing it! Present the dishes in a fun way with varied and colorful menus. 

Set meal times:

Avoid offering too many snacks and make snacks lighter. Watch for snacking between meals so he can enjoy his dinner Serve his meal at least two hours after his snack. At mealtime, it's a good idea to start with the food they don't like first, because if they're hungry, they'll be more cooperative! On the other hand, avoid eating too late, because if he is tired your child will eat less.

Engage your child who refuses to eat:

Tell him the story of this food, did it grow on a tree? What is its name? Involve them in the shopping and in the preparation of the meal. Nothing like a little cooking workshop to work up an appetite. Make him responsible for simple tasks like stirring the soup and setting the table. Involving your child in this way will fill him with good vibes and encourage him to cooperate.  

Read our article: 3 easy recipes for kids just for you here.

Give your child attention outside of mealtime:

Sometimes the rejections are to get your attention. This is often the reason why other family members or his babysitter are more successful in getting him to eat. You can avoid this by giving him maximum attention outside of meal times. However, ignore the child's tantrums. This way, the child will understand that being difficult will not capture your interest. This will gradually dissuade him from being difficult at the table. 

Rewarding efforts: 

Once he finally agrees to try it, usually after 10 to 15 tries, encourage him and emphasize his willingness to try new things. What an adventurer! How you have grown! Your perseverance has finally paid off and it will also motivate him to try more foods. 

However, if after many tries it still doesn't work, you will have to accept that the child simply doesn't like the food. You can try again a few months later.

What not to do: 

Child refuses to eat: reactions to avoid
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Do not negotiate with the child who refuses to eat

No blackmail with dessert! Dessert is not a reward. On the one hand, if you offer him a great dessert, if he eats his meal, the child will think that this meal must be really inedible for you to offer him this deal. On the other hand, even if he doesn't cooperate, he still has the right to his dessert. Because the latter still provides nutritional value. And if the child has not eaten, he will need it.

Don't force him to finish his plate

You don't want to force them to finish everything, because children instinctively respect their hunger. Respect his satiety, he is just not hungry anymore. Give priority to the quality and variety of food rather than the quantity (fruits, vegetables, cereals...).

Don't give in by cooking something else:

No special treatment! Keep a firm grip on the menu orders. You can explain that you made this dish because Dad likes it so much. Next time, you'll make the dish he likes. But at that point, he'll have to respect that. The more you give in to his demands, the harder it will be to fix his eating disorder. The sooner you understand his tastes, the less trouble he will give you in the future.

Don't criticize the child who refuses to eat

Don't blame her! Blaming her can have a huge impact on her self-esteem. Avoid linking emotion to food at all costs. Don't threaten or blame him, it will only make it more difficult. If he refuses to eat, remove his plate without commenting or looking sorry or angry.

When to worry about the child refusing to eat? 

When to consult a doctor?
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If the child is very young (between 0 and 6 months). If he loses about 10% of his total weight or if he doesn't eat anything at all... at this time, it is imperative to consult your pediatrician to get a professional opinion and possibly prevent underlying diseases.