As a nutritionist I have been giving food advice for many years so it came as a shock when my own daughter, Coco, 2, went from eating everything put in front of her as a baby to refusing food at about 14 months. Previous favourites, such as broccoli, anchovies and olives, were rejected in favour of a diet that comprised only plain pasta, peas and yoghurt.
Why, I wanted to know, do children have phases of “fussy eating”?
Judy More, a paediatric dietitian, explained to me: “This stage often develops soon after toddlers have begun walking and can roam farther to investigate their environment.” Children are, quite naturally, afraid of new things at this stage. “The fear of new foods is probably a survival mechanism to prevent mobile young toddlers from harming themselves. If they were to have tasted any interestinglooking berry on a bush they could well have poisoned themselves.”
It took me a while to grasp the idea that my baby was actually drawing on ancient survival techniques rather than deliberately winding me up by refusing nutritious meals, but understanding that did make our lives easier. However tempting force-feeding may seem, it can be counter-productive. I found that being patient was the best approach. Toddlers are not programmed to let themselves starve and if all they are eating is plain pasta, fromage frais and the odd pea, they will eat enough to survive, as monotonous as it seems to a parent at the time.