Food likes and dislikes

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Learn how to respond to your child's appetite slumps and food preferences.

Key points

  • To encourage healthy eating, eat together as a family and keep mealtimes relaxed, without distractions.
  • Understand that appetite slumps do occur and are not harmful if they are only temporary.
  • If your child does not like a particular food, offer alternatives within the same food group. Do not negotiate with or pressure them.
  • Speak to your child's doctor if you are very concerned about their eating habits or food dislikes.

Children eat best in a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere. If they are constantly eating or are forced to finish their meals, they do not learn to recognize their hunger cues, which may make it harder for them to develop healthy eating habits.



Children of all ages need to eat healthy food choices from the four food groups: vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and alternatives and meat and alternatives​.

Avoid pressuring your child to "clean their plate" and try not to offer food between set meal and snack times.

To encourage healthy eating, keep mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable for the whole family. Even from a young age, children can observe and learn from your mealtime behaviour. Children learn the associations between food and a warm, inviting environment. As a result, avoid pressuring your child to “clean their plate” and try not to offer food between set meal and snack times. Children who are constantly eating or are forced to finish their meals do not learn how to recognize their hunger cues.

Toddlers

Some days, toddlers may eat more and other days less. Appetite slumps can be a part of toddler life but are generally not of concern if they are only temporary. Offer a variety of choices within each food group. For example, rice, couscous, small whole wheat pasta shapes, whole wheat toast fingers or warm chapatti can be used interchangeably as choices for grains.

Toddlers will learn they need to eat the food that you, their parent, have provided. They often develop food likes and dislikes, but do not make multiple dishes to satisfy your child at each meal.

Preschoolers

Preschoolers have a stronger sense of food likes and dislikes, but it is important to continue offering a variety of foods. Include one favourite food during a meal, but keep up the variety to help your child accept new foods.

Some children find a favourite food and refuse all other foods. This is called a food jag. This is quite common; generally, a child will tire of the favourite food and move on.

Tips to encourage good eating habits

  • Be a role model - if you want your child to eat healthy foods, show them that you eat healthy foods too.
  • Sit and eat together.
  • Minimize distractions. Do not allow your child to watch TV, play with electronics or look at books during mealtime.
  • Be realistic about the length of mealtimes - allow enough time for your child to eat by following their cues, but do not prolong the experience. Generally, meals should take about 30 minutes.
  • Encourage your child to try one to three bites of a new food, but avoid negotiating with them or using pressure tactics.
  • Be patient and keep offering healthy food choices, no matter how often they refuse them.
  • Take away the food once the mealtime is over.
  • Praise and encourage your child when they behave well at the table or try new foods.
  • Do not get caught up with mealtime etiquette such as using cutlery properly or not letting food get on clothes.
  • Involve your child in choosing meals and preparing food. Studies have found that children who are more actively involved in meal preparation tend to eat healthier foods.

If you are very concerned about your child's eating habits and food dislikes, talk to your family doctor about your child's growth and nutrition.

Last updated: September 27th 2013