Food Neophobia and How to Overcome It.


Food neophobia is a common phenomenon. When we encounter something new, such as food, we are confronted with two issues: neophobia and neophilia.

What is food neophobia?

Neophobia here is the fear of eating an unknown substance (new food) or Neophilia – the desire to try new tastes.

As humans, we have extraordinary recognition and memory abilities, which allow us to avoid poisons and seek out more nutritious foods. For example, a sense of disgust interprets potentially harmful substances, such as overripe or rotten foods.

Do you know that food neophobia is very common?

Don’t be alarmed, the fear of trying new foods is a normal stage of child development. It affects between 50 and 75 percent of children. Neophobia is a characteristic fear response that ensures we eat only small quantities of new foodstuffs. If we don’t fall ill from consumption of the new food, and assuming that the food is reasonably palatable, we tend to increase our intake on subsequent exposures to that food.

What causes neophobia?

The following are the main factors associated with food neophobia:

  • parental influence on children’s eating habits,
  • children’s innate preference for sweet and savoury flavours,
  • the sensory aspect of food, parental pressure for the child to eat, and
  • parents’ lack of encouragement and/or affection at mealtime.

However, this “sense of disgust” is also culturally determined, which means that culture has a way of modifying food morales through complex taboos, recipes, rules, traditions, and so on. Although man as a species is willing to consume anything, various human societies have a tendency to limit the concept of what constitutes food.

For example, in eastern Nigeria, some of us eat termites (Aku), which is considered a special delicacy, whereas a foreigner would be disgusted. Snails and periwinkles are consumed in southern Nigeria, and cockroaches are consumed in Asian countries. There appears to be a fine line between delicacy and disgusting, and this line appears to be culturally imposed.

Tips to deal with food neophobia

  1. Start slowly and you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
  2. Don’t push yourself because it will discourage you from trying again in the future.
  3. Make things enjoyable. You might find it easier to try the food when combined with other foods.
  4. Share that meal with someone who genuinely enjoys it.
  5. Make it appear familiar by preparing it similar to another meal you enjoy.
  6. Be patient and wait for the right moment. It’s possible that timing your meals will do the trick. Certain meals are preferred by some people at specific times of the day.
  7. Begin with small amounts. Eating a large amount of unfamiliar food may cause your gag reflex to kick in, or you may vomit the food entirely.

You can book any of our consultants to help clarify any nutrition issues you may have. Find some nutrition myths debunked here.


Cover photo: Woman photo created by wayhomestudio –

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