Although some children at this age will be good eaters, the general rule is that most toddlers are very picky eaters. They will typically eat three or four bites and then want nothing more to do with the food. Parents often worry about their children’s nutrition during this picky time. “How can my child grow on nothing but milk and crackers?” “Will he become deficient in certain vitamins?” “My baby absolutely refuses to eat any vegetable!” One reassuring aspect of all this is that yours is not the only child who refuses to eat. The vast majority of other toddlers go through this stage. You went through this stage when you were a toddler as well, and look how you turned out. (This may or may not be reassuring to you!) This simple fact of life is that toddlers are supposed to be picky eaters. In a world where they have little control in their life, it is one of the first areas that they can exert some control over. It isn’t that they aren’t hungry. It is simply that they realize they can turn their head, push the spoon away, clamp their mouth closed, and thus be in charge of the situation. This stage is a precursor to temper tantrums – the next phase of fighting for control. The bottom line is that baby will outgrow this stage. You can either stress about it and try every little trick in the book to coax your toddler into eating more, or you can just sit back and let him mature out of this stage in the next few months. Either way, he will come out just fine.
Strategies For Feeding The Picky Eater
Here are two strategies you can try to get a few extra calories and vitamins into your child:
- Grazing – do not expect your toddler to sit down and eat a full meal three times a day. Instead, keep out a plate of finger foods (healthy ones) on his table. Let him graze on and off throughout the day.
- Reverse psychology – at mealtime, have everyone sit down at the table and begin eating. Sit baby in the highchair, but don’t give him any food. Pretend he is not even there. He will watch everyone else eat, and realize he’s being left out. He may then ask for your food or reach for your plate. Do not have a plate of food ready for him, because if you then set a whole plate of food down in front of him, he may reject it. When he asks, give him a bite of food off of your plate (this can either be your own food or something you’ve prepared for him). Don’t offer him a second bite until he indicates he wants more. Continue giving him bites while he is interested. Don’t pay him too much attention. Act like he is interrupting you to get bites of food. The second you sense he is becoming a bit resistant, stop feeding him and go back to the ignoring phase. He may again start to feel left out and ask for more. Before baby realizes it, he has eaten twenty bites of food!
And what does baby perceive during this time? That he is in control. Some parents are afraid to let their babies control them. Well, in this situation, baby isn’t trying to control you. He is learning to be in control of himself, and this builds better self-esteem and independence. This method works best when there is more than one person with you at the table. If you and baby are alone, then read a book or magazine. We are not suggesting you get in the habit of ignoring your child or reading during mealtimes when you could be interacting with him. But for this picky stage it is ok.
Feeding Strategies That Don’t Work – What NOT To Do
Here are some feeding issues that some parents have tried, but may not be appropriate for toddlers at this age:
- Insist that baby finish his meal – making baby sit in the high chair until his food is finished is unrealistic at this age. An 18-month-old is unable to understand “you can’t get down until you finish your dinner.”
- Insist that baby not make a mess – this too is unrealistic. Toddlers are supposed to make a mess while eating. That is how they learn. You can draw the line on making a mess where you feel it is appropriate, such as when baby begins throwing his food, it’s time to get down.
- Make baby eat what you have prepared – one of the most useful concepts parents learn is flexibility. Offer baby a variety of foods. Don’t expect her to eat liver and onions! Baby may not feel like spaghetti that night. Offer her an alternative. Be careful not to give in too much, such as crackers and bread for dinner every night.
- Don’t push it – when baby does not want any more, let him be done. Trying to coax a few more bites into him may turn into a battle, and may turn him off to eating. This makes him even more picky at mealtimes.
Remember, you can either spend the next two years worrying about your picky eater and trying every trick in the book, or you can just sit back, relax, and let your toddler go at his own pace. Either way, he will come out just fine.