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Is 'fussiness' and food rejection a normal phase?

Without a doubt, the greatest influences on a child's eating habits, in early childhood, are the people closest to them - parents and caregivers.  However, it is important to remember that there is no prescribed right way to feed children, that it is quite normal for most children at some stage to become fussy with their food - most parents find that at some time around a child's 2nd birthday, and usually before their 3rd, they begin to move from relative acceptance of foods to rejection.  But, don't panic this does not necessarily reflect on your parenting skills!  However, exposing children to a large variety of foods when introducing solids is one of the best ways to encourage acceptance of foods into childhood and beyond.

The table below highlights many of the stages that young children routinely move through in relation to eating.  For example as a child's growth rate begins to slow, so too do their appetites at around the age of 12 - 18 months.  Parents can be surprised if their normally great eater begins to show signs of fussiness or indifference to food.  A general pattern of acceptance, suspicion, rejection, exertion of control and then acceptance occurs.  The important thing to keep in mind is that the food being offered is healthy, that way what a child chooses to eat can only be good for them.  Being in tune with the 'normal' developmental stages of a child and their readiness for new food experiences is an important part of fostering a love of good food in your child as he or she grows.

Have a look at the table and below....where does your child fit?  Do some of these characteristics sound familiar?


Typical physical and social/personal characteristics related to eating during the early years

12-18 months
  • Grasps & releases foods with fingers
  • Holds spoon but uses poorly
  • Turns spoon in mouth
  • Uses cup but releases poorly
  • Wants food others are eating
  • Loves performing
18 months - 2 years
  • Appetite decreases
  • Likes eating with hands
  • Likes experimenting with textures
  • Routine/rituals becomes important
  • Displays food preferences
  • Distracts easily
  • Develops negative behaviour
2 - 3 years
  • Holds glass in hand
  • Places spoon straight in mouth
  • Spills a lot
  • Chews more food but choking still a hazard
  • Defines likes and dislikes
  • Insists on doing it 'myself'
  • Ritualistic
  • Dwadles
  • Food fads emerge more
  • Demands food in certain shapes and whole pieces of food
  • Likes to help in the kitchen
3 - 4 years
  • Holds handle on cup
  • Pours from a small jug
  • Uses fork by themselves
  • Chews most foods
  • Able to choose between two food options
  • Influenced by TV commercials
  • Likes to copy food preparer
  • Imaginative play
  • Improved appetite and interest in food
  • Favourite foods requested
  • Likes shapes, colours, AB's
4-5 years
  • Uses knife and fork independently
  • Good use of cup
  • Good self-feeder
  • Likes to help
  • Rather talk than eat
  • Food fads continue
  • Motivated to eat by incentives
  • Likes to help
  • Interested in the nature of food and where it comes from
  • Peer influence increasing
5 - 6 years
  • Independent feeding
  • Less suspicious of mixtures but still prefers plain foods
  • Social influences outside the home increasing
  • Food important part of special occassions

Source: Network of Federal/Provincial/Territorial Group on Nutrition and the National Institute of Nutrition.  Reproduced in National Health and Medical Research Council.  Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents, 1995. 

Browse more of our Yum Yum Kids articles here.