Toddlers can be insanely unpredictable especially around mealtimes. One day they devour their weight in food, the next day they hardly eat a thing. For months blueberries are their favorite thing on the planet, but today blueberries are thrown on the floor in disgust. As parents we all want to avoid having “picky” eaters, but that’s easier said than done with a kid that’s testing boundaries, teething like mad and going through all kinds of leapy growth spurts.
When we started on solids at 6 months I was interested in BLW (Baby Led Weaning), but anxious about the possibility of choking. Ultimately our little dude made the choice easy for us, because he wasn’t interested in purees or being spoon-fed, so we forged ahead with BLW. I attended a workshop by Allergic to Salad which provided helpful advice and an extremely practical framework for how to feed my baby. Now 1 year later he’s 18 months with a healthy appetite and a pretty diverse diet – he happily eats mouthfuls of meat, lots of veggies, grains and of course tons of fruit. Most people are amazed by the fact that he likes things like fish, broccoli and steak so I thought I’d share some things I learned along the way because it has definitely been a learning process:
1) Minimize snacking – snacks are like crack for babies. I try to cut off snacking about 2 hrs before a meal. This is not always possible when you’re out and about and other kids are munching. My little snack thief has swiped his share of puffs and pretzels from other kids, but I do my best to keep him away from food before meals. We have designated snack windows in the morning (8:30am – 9:30am) and afternoon (2:30pm – 3:30pm). During snack times I try to offer something substantial in the hopes that he will eat it, but after 9:30am / 3:30pm snacking is off the table (pun intended) until the next meal. I’ve found that ensuring enough time to get really hungry is the key to getting him to try new foods and eat A LOT. Sometimes I feel like a monster who is starving my child, but when he devours an adult sized portion of dinner, I know I’m doing the right thing. For us 2 hrs usually does the trick. I’m a firm believer in the “all babies are different” mantra so experiment and figure out a timeframe that works best for your toddler!
2) Avoid the food parade – when we first started solids I would introduce a plethora of new foods in one sitting to keep things interesting and exciting. My thinking was to allow him to taste lots of different flavors. If he didn’t like what was on offer I’d immediately present him with something else. Big mistake. Babies are smart as hell and giving them too many options is basically an invitation to be picky. While I feel strongly that he doesn’t have to like / love everything I do want to give him the opportunity to build his pallet. Over time I’ve come to the realization that if he’s really truly hungry he’ll eat whatever is in front of him. Too much choice is also overwhelming so I try not to overload his plate and just wait for him to ask for MORE 🙂
3) Involve them – If there’s something they can stir or a button to push, let them work with you in the kitchen. I always find it helps to let my babe get involved in the preparation. Smoothies are perfect for this. He always pushes the button on the vitamix and taste tests the final product. Dipping is another way to mix things up in the middle of a meal and give them some room for experimentation and exploration.
4) Take a break – If the meal isn’t going well I usually ask if he’s hungry and if he says “no” or fights getting into the highchair we usually step away from the table and look out the window to reset. He’ll almost always gravitate back to the food after a few minutes.
5) Don’t obsess over amounts – I recently read that you should measure how much your toddler is eating weekly rather than daily and it really helped put things in perspective. It can be so confusing to know how much food is “enough” for a growing toddler – I try to trust that his body knows how much he needs and if he doesn’t eat well one day that’s ok. Teething usually throws everything off and most of the above “rules” go out the window on those days. I allow him to chow down on just frozen blueberries and frozen peas and try to get back on track when he’s ready and the pain subsides. I spent so many months stressing over his food intake when we first started solids and realized it was a waste of energy. Ultimately unless your pediatrician says there’s something to be concerned about, try not to worry and just enjoy the messy ride!
Disclaimer: These tips are mostly for babes that are 12month+. Whether you decide to start with purées or BLW ultimately at 12-18 months you’re bound to have a kid who is asserting their independence around meal times and food play is pretty much inevitable. Its actually a healthy sign of development from what I’ve read. The trick is to not give into it and have consistent boundaries about what’s allowed during meal times and what isn’t. There are definitely times when my baby boy can be “picky” too. I also understand that every kid is different and some things are out of our control no matter how hard we try to do everything right. Our son didn’t sleep through the night until he was 11.5 months and it was grueling. While I know we created some of his “sleep issues” due to bad habits and inconsistency, I also believe that some kids are just born better sleepers than others. I’m sure the same is true of eating and think that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves.