Food Regression 101: What to Do When Your Child Stops Liking Foods They Used to Eat


Note: This blog is not medical advice and is for informational purposes only. For any specific nutrition recommendations, please refer to your child’s healthcare provider.

Food regression, or the refusal of certain foods, is a normal phase that many toddlers go through. But as parents, we understand that it can be both concerning and frustrating. So what are you supposed to do? We tapped O’Farm Expert, Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, LD for tips and tricks on how to boost nutrition, foster a positive mealtime environment, reduce food waste and so much more.

What is food regression, and why do children experience it?

Kacie Barnes: Food regression, a common phase among toddlers, involves a decline in interest in certain foods. This typically occurs in the second year of life, marking the transition from babyhood to toddlerhood. The phenomenon can be attributed to several factors, including "food neophobia," where children are hesitant to try new or unfamiliar foods. While it can be disconcerting for parents, it's essential to note that most food regressions are temporary and manageable.

What are some common reasons behind children's food regression?

KB: Food regression often occurs around 18 months to two years old as toddlers embrace their newfound independence. "Food neophobia" is a common culprit, with its duration influenced by a child's temperament and sensitivity to change. Traumatic food experiences or sickness can also trigger food regression. Additionally, the desire to assert preferences during toddlerhood can contribute to this phase.

How should parents approach conversations about food regression with their children?

KB: When discussing food regression with children, maintaining a neutral and non-pressured tone is crucial. Mealtimes should be kept enjoyable, with the focus shifted away from food. Offering choices, such as two or three options, allows children to feel more in control while still ensuring a balanced diet. For example, you can ask something like, “would you like a mango-flavored smoothie or strawberry banana?” You’re ultimately still in charge of the mealtime but it helps them when they feel like they have some say.

How can parents ensure their children still receive proper nutrition even if they become pickier eaters?

KB: Parents can enhance the nutritional value of familiar foods without forcing new items on picky eaters. For example, choosing whole-grain bread for sandwiches or incorporating different nut butters can add nutritional diversity. Texture-friendly additions like ground flaxseed or chia seeds can provide protein, fat, and fiber without overwhelming children.

What are some tips to help encourage kids to try new foods?

KB: Stress-free mealtimes are essential to encouraging children to try new foods. Alternating meal locations, using go-to phrases to manage resistance, engaging in non-food-related conversations, and even playful food presentation can help alleviate pressure and make meals more enjoyable.

Why is introducing a variety of foods important, and how can parents effectively diversify their child's diet?

KB: Variety in a child's diet is crucial for providing essential nutrients. Incorporating carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and fiber into meals covers the nutritional spectrum. While children may resist vegetables, offering a variety of fruits can ensure they obtain essential vitamins and minerals.

Are there ways to involve children in food preparation that might make them more receptive to trying new or previously disliked foods?

KB: Engaging children in food preparation can pique their interest and excitement about trying new or previously disliked foods. Grocery shopping together and assigning age-appropriate tasks during meal preparation can foster a sense of involvement and make kids more willing to try what they've helped create.

How should parents manage food waste when children consistently reject certain items?

KB: To minimize food waste, parents can start by offering small portions of new or rejected foods. Uneaten items that can be safely stored for later use should be saved. Additionally, composting can responsibly dispose of food waste.

When should parents consider seeking professional guidance?

KB: Consulting a pediatrician is advisable if you’re concerned about food regression. Seek professional assistance if your child is not growing or gaining weight as expected, avoids entire food groups for extended periods, or consistently consumes fewer than 20 different foods. Many parents are triggered by feeding their own kids, and it can bring to light issues around food, body image, anxiety, or parenting that would warrant seeking help from a therapist.