Okay kids, this is my first FAQ post where I'm answering toddler feeding questions submitted on Facebook and Instagram. I hope this becomes a helpful series—and chime in to add your own advice and feel free to add questions for next week in the comments!
-->Dislikes a Specific Food Group
Q: Why doesn't my 19-month-old like meat? We've tried chicken, ground beef, meatballs, lunch meats, fish... Is it a lack of teeth thing, or a texture thing or... ? See also: peanut butter.
I can assure you that many babies without teeth can chomp on meat (gums are strong!), so it may be texture. Honestly though, if she is still getting plenty of protein (toddlers aged 1-3 need about 13 grams each day) and iron (she'd need about 7 mg), I wouldn't stress about it too much. She may take longer to learn to like the flavor and texture of meats, so keep offering them the way you like to eat them, but don't pressure her to try it—often, the harder we push, the harder they push back! Some good protein sources include cheese, yogurt, milk, nut butter, beans, and eggs. Iron rich foods include spinach, whole grain bread, fortified cereals, brown rice, lentils, and eggs. Ask your pediatrician about a multivitamin if you think she's might not be getting enough iron.
Further reading: The 10 Golden Rules for Exposing Kids to Food / Exploring Preferences and Changing Tastes with Picky Eating
-->Transitioning from Purees to Solids
Q: My son just turned a year old and has 8 teeth with another coming in now. He's eaten a variety of food, mashed and solid, since 6 months but now he picks and chooses when he wil eat solid foods. There's never been a choking issue. Any suggestions?
It's possible that the purees are more in his comfort zone if that's what he's mostly been eating up until now. Making an abrupt change can be hard on a kiddo, but here are a few things to keep in mind when transitioning from purees to solids:
- Try to give him more chances to feed himself, whether in finger foods or by placing purees into reusable pouches. The independence may help him get comfortable with more table foods without pushing too hard.
- Offer table foods that are soft and easy to manipulate in the mouth like roasted sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, mashed beans like in hummus (with some texture), and avocado slices.
- Include a range of textures at each meal with a puree, something crunchy but dissolvable (rice cakes, puffs, etc.), soft cooked veggies, or soft fruits like pear, kiwi, or mango. This way he can explore but still has his "safe" food to go back to. You can gradually increase the amount of table foods and decrease the purees as time goes on.
Q: What is the best way to handle when it when my daughter puts food on her head and/or puts her feet on the table? She clearly does it to get our attention (often if the conversation has wandered away from her into adult chatting). I'm never quite sure if that's a good time to set a firm limit, redirect to something positive, or just try to ignore it so she doesn't get a reaction.
I think our kids might be plotting against us since this happens in our house a lot. And yes, she's doing it to get your attention. At our table, we either try to include her in the conversation (even if we're sort of just looking and talking to her while we're really talking to the other adult at the table), or let her be done with the meal if she's not eating anymore. Given that you know the cause of the behavior (she wants in on the stimulating storytelling), try to stop it quickly and move her on to something else—while gently reminding her that her pasta does not belong on her head.
Further reading: Manners for Toddlers
Q: I have a picky eater (22 months) and don't know what to do. The biggest problem I have with her is that at breakfast when she won't eat a thing.
Kids have different hunger patterns and they simply might not be hungry first thing in the morning. If that happens regularly, try to delay breakfast, or offer a small breakfast followed by a more substantial mid-morning snack. Assuming your child is otherwise healthy and gaining weight like she should be at her age, she'll eat when she's hungry. (If not, check in with your pediatrician.) Also, if you regularly give milk first thing in the morning before breakfast, delay the drink until it's served with food at the table since she might be filling up on milk and running out of room in her tummy.
Further reading: Stop Labeling Your Child As A Picky Eater / All Time Best Strategies for Raising Healthy Eaters
-->Stuck in a Food Rut
Q: How can I get my 19 month old to try new things when she is hooked to only one kind of dinner? During the stage I should have been teaching her new healthy taste I had morning sickness( 2nd pregnancy) and made whatever she wanted.
Mealtime routines are both essential and problematic. You want enough of a routine so that your child knows what to expect (and what is expected of her), but not so set in stone that she insists one eating the same dinner everyday. A good rule of thumb is to try not to serve the same thing two days in a row and to offer new foods alongside ones you know she likes. Or, offer subtle variations on liked foods such as changing the shape of the pasta, using a different topping on oatmeal, or mixing some new fruits into a familiar smoothie base. And, the wise MaryAnn Jacobsen, an RD and one of the authors of Fearless Feeding, says: "Children do better with eating when they feel like their food preferences are being honored. But this is very different from catering to them. Let your child know that you will provide the foods they like throughout the week but that you will also be serving other foods."
Further Reading: Is Your Child Holding You Hostage at Mealtime / 4 Simple Steps to Overcome Food Refusal
--> Too Many Snacks
Q: My toddler (14 months) loves breakfast but won't eat anything else other than snack type foods.
Here's the simple answer: If you want your toddler to eat less snack foods (and I'm assuming you mean unhealthy ones), don't keep them in the house. I know, sounds harsh, but it's really the simplest answer to this. Limiting snack foods will make room for more nourishing foods and while it may take a few days to transition away from those foods, if you are consistent, it will become the new normal. If that isn't the way you want to go, you can swap in healthier versions of some favorite snacks (check out some ideas here) or try making some snacks at home. And you can always serve snack foods alongside other foods to neutralize them a bit. See the link below from Ellyn Satter.
Further reading: Ellyn Satter on Using Forbidden Foods / Selecting Healthy Snacks for Toddlers
Q: Hi, my daughter is 18 months, and I want to know how I can sneak in veggies and other healthy options into her everyday meals. She is extremely picky and licks everything before putting it in her mouth. She is already hooked on sugar, so she prefers sweets, so it would be great to use that and add healthy options into sweet foods.
I'm going to list out some ideas and hope that some of these might work:
Roasted sweet potatoes and carrots, which become even sweeter when cooked this way since their sugars caramelize.
Smoothies with fruits including mango and pineapple, which are nice and sweet.
Adding grated yellow squash to muffins, which is nearly impossible to see.
Try Sweet Potato Quesadillas, Spinach Pizza Rolls, Veggie-Loaded Marinara Sauce, Meatballs with Kale, Sweet Potato White Bean Dip, or Pumpkin Almond Butter Mini Muffins (shown above).
Adding grated carrot, mashed sweet potato, or apple to pancakes.
Further reading: Check out the recipes on Super Healthy Kids who are dedicated to exactly this!
Q: I'm wondering if you have any ideas for make ahead preschool lunches so I could prepare everything on Sunday for the week. My daughter loves dairy and will eat veggies but doesn't seem to want most things with protein. Any tips would be really appreciated!!
I have so many thoughts on this one that it will be it's own post very soon. Stay tuned!
Note: I am not a doctor or a dietician. This advice is my opinion and based on my experiences and research. If you have a serious concern about your toddler's eating habits, please consult a medical provider.