What is food neophobia?

Food neophobia manifests as a reluctance to consume and avoidance of unfamiliar foods based on vision alone. This inherent adaptive trait leads to the rejection of novel foods by children and, despite distinct differences, is one example of picky eating behavior1.

What is the prevalence of food neophobia?

Studies have indicated that approximately 40% of children between the ages of 4 and 7, and 14% of children aged 5 to 9, experience food neophobia2.

What are the risk factors for developing food neophobia?

Reluctance towards new foods can be associated with a child’s genetic make-up, past experiences, culture, and/or their developmental stage3.  It is most likely to occur among children 2 to 6 years-old, when they also have greater autonomy with regard to food choices1. While age plays a role, individual differences, including trait anxiety and aversion to bitter-looking foods, also impact novel food acceptance1. Parental influence, stemming from their own neophobia or limited exposure to new foods, further determines the extent and duration of food neophobia3.

Are there any signs or symptoms of a more serious underlying issue associated with this behavior?

While food neophobia is a normal part of child development and typically resolves without incident, certain signs may indicate a more serious issue. These signs include extreme selectivity in food consumption2, persistent refusal to eat accompanied by distress1, avoidance of entire food groups for an extended period1, and co-occurring conditions such as sensory processing disorder, autism spectrum disorder, or anxiety disorders4.

What are the recommended actions for the child’s primary health care provider?

If findings of a routine exam suggest a child is experiencing food neophobia, further assessment may be warranted to assess the severity and duration. As indicated, education and counseling for parents/guardians can be helpful to provide support and develop strategies such as the use of gradual and repeated exposure to novel foods, 1 positive reinforcement for progress3, and modeling adventurous eating behaviors at home3.  A referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or feeding specialist for further evaluation and intervention may also be helpful.

This issue was written by Justine Habibian, Ph.D., R.D.N.


1. Dovey TM, Staples PA, Gibson EL, Halford JCG. Food neophobia and “picky/fussy” eating in children: a review. Appetite. 2008;50(2-3):181-193. doi:10.1016/J.APPET.2007.09.009

2. Białek-Dratwa A, Szczepańska E, Szymańska D, Grajek M, Krupa-Kotara K, Kowalski O. Neophobia—A Natural Developmental Stage or Feeding Difficulties for Children? Nutrients. 2022;14(7). doi:10.3390/NU14071521

3. de Oliveira Torres T, Gomes DR, Mattos MP. FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH FOOD NEOPHOBIA IN CHILDREN: SYSTEMATICREVIEW. Rev Paul Pediatr. 2021;39. doi:10.1590/1984-0462/2021/39/2020089

4. Wallace GL, Llewellyn C, Fildes A, Ronald A. Autism spectrum disorder and food neophobia: clinical and subclinical links. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018;108(4):701-707. doi:10.1093/AJCN/NQY163

5. MyPlate | U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed January 16, 2024. https://www.myplate.gov/

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