There is a clear window of opportunity, between the time baby starts solid foods and when he begins to walk, in which it is easiest for him to learn to like new foods. It only takes a baby ten tries to learn to like a new food, while for toddlers in can take 11 times or more. Once your child starts walking, the fear of new foods and new food sources increases. This instinct is called neophobia, or fear of trying new things including new foods, and it’s nature’s way of protecting toddlers from accidentally ingesting something dangerous. This makes sense, since the more agrarian human societies of the recent past spent much more time in the wild, where eating the wrong bitter berry or leaf could be very dangerous.

Still today, toddlers are designed to be suspicious of new fruits and vegetables, so refusing new foods can be a normal part of development. Even though food neophobia is meant to help keep our little ones safe, it can also mean that toddlers will be picky eaters!

The key to managing food neophobia (or managing its influence) is to ensure your child starts exploring new flavors and tastes early. Palate development begins during pregnancy and continues with the transition to solid foods. Offering your baby a variety of foods from an early age—including lots of fruits, whole grains, proteins, and vegetables—is very important. By the time they start walking, they will have already developed a taste for healthy, whole foods.

As your toddler begins to walk, he is gaining a new sense of autonomy. Dr. Alan Greene suggests that you can harness this sense of independence to combat food neophobia by letting your little one be involved in making food choices. Toddlers also tend to like foods more when they can pronounce the word and identify the picture. The more they are involved and engaged in the selection and preparation, the more willing they will be to eat the food.


In the United States, 10-20% of toddlers eat no fruit, 30% eat no vegetables, and more than 50% have zero servings per day of whole grains. French fries are the most popular vegetable for toddlers because they are easy to chew and swallow and have a familiar texture. The top fruits are bananas and fruit cocktails (with sugar). But, it doesn’t have to be this way! With a little encouragement and planning, your tot can learn to love variety and health.

Of course, introducing a toddler to new foods does not always go as planned. It can be messy—as you know if you’ve ever tried to get blueberry stains out of curtains. The fact is that a toddler’s brain is hard wired to be skeptical of new foods at first, so keep at it. The rewards will be great. And stock up on stain remover.

Learn more about how to create healthy snacks for your tot here.