In this blog I’m going to delve into a common question that plagues many parents: “Why does my child eat a food one day and then refuse it on another?”
As a Paediatric Dietitian, I come across this question frequently.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, I’ll share the five main reasons behind this puzzling phenomenon.
1. Hunger Levels
First and foremost, sometimes children simply aren’t hungry. They might lack the words or understanding to express their lack of appetite effectively. Instead, they resort to saying, “Yuck, I don’t like it” when, in reality, they just don’t feel hungry enough to eat. Often (but not always) dinner is the most difficult meal of the day and hunger can definitely be at play when children have filled up on breakfast, lunch and various snacks and just aren’t hungry enough to be interested in their evening meal.
2: Communication Challenges
Children may not yet have the communication skills to articulate why they don’t want a particular food on that day or they might not feel confident to tell you the real reason that they don’t want it.
It’s far easier for them to say, “I don’t like it” rather than pinpointing the specific reason behind their aversion. This can be incredibly frustrating for both children and parents when neither of them want a fight over dinner but there just doesn’t seem to be a way to talk about why foods aren’t wanted.
3: Sensory Variations
Children, especially fussy eaters, might perceive slight differences in foods that adults overlook. For instance, a dish like spaghetti bolognese may seem uniform to us, but to a child, variations in preparation (e.g., cooking time, onion type, pasta texture) can make it seem like an entirely different meal. These sensory differences can affect their willingness to eat.
Children also categorise the foods that they eat. For example, spaghetti bolognese at nursery or school may have made it into the “I’ll eat this” category but your bolognese at home hasn’t yet. Rather than being frustrated and keep pushing it, try to see the positive that there is a food your child eats elsewhere which is giving them different nutrients and a positive eating experience. At some point, if you keep offering without pressure they may come round to eating yours too!
If your child is particularly sensitive to changes in appearance, texture or taste then changes you might not pick up may be very obvious to your child. For example, a slight bit of black from cooking chicken in the frying pan, or a banana being just past the desired ripeness may put your child off wanting to eat those foods.
4: Environmental Factors
A child’s eating habits can be influenced by their environment and daily experiences.
Do you ever come in from work or finish a full on day with your child and think; “I really want a take away or something comforting. I can’t face that pasta I was going to have.”? Your child will be having the same life experience and will sometimes just feel overwhelmed.
On days when everything is calm, and there’s no sensory overload or emotional stress, they may be more inclined to eat certain foods. Conversely, if they’ve had a challenging day, they might find it harder to eat. Children often lack the ability to express their feelings, so they resort to saying, “I don’t want it.”
5: Personal Preferences
Lastly, children, like adults, have days when they simply don’t fancy a particular food. We’ve all had moments when we’ve declined a meal, saying, “I just don’t fancy that.” Children are no different, and it’s essential to recognize that they, too, have days when their preferences play a significant role in their food choices.
As you can see, there are various reasons why your child might eat a food one day and not another. Understanding these factors can help parents navigate the complexities of feeding their children. While it’s essential to offer a diverse diet and maintain consistency, it’s equally important to acknowledge that children’s appetites and food preferences can fluctuate.
If you found this information useful, consider following my YouTube channel for more insights. You can also connect with me on Instagram and explore additional blogs on my website for further guidance on feeding your child.
If there’s a topic you’d like me to write about or if you need input from a dietitian on a particular topic such as growth, food allergies, constipation, fussy eating, vegetarian or vegan diets, reflux or anything else feeding related please get in contact!