Toddler Eating: What’s going on and what to do about it

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Any parent remembers a time they were steaming, boiling, dicing, chopping, pureeing, and mashing a variety of healthy food combinations for their hungry infant. There were times in our household, I would fill a cereal bowl with whatever I had prepared, presumed it was an ambitious amount to give my little girl, and was amazed when she didn’t seem to slow down until the very last bite. Fast forward to the months before her second birthday, my girl who would eat anything and everything was suddenly someone who could forego dinner easily. Meals, at times, had become almost rude interruptions. So what was going on? What were we, the parents, to do?

What the Experts say

In infancy, children are doubling, and even tripling their weight. Conversely, in their third year, the average toddler gains approximately 4 lbs. (1.8 kg) and grows only 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm), according to Dr. Steven Dowshen, Chief Medical Editor of the KidsHealth website. Moreover, by their second birthday most children are avidly asserting their autonomy. Making decisions, mainly saying, “no,” allows them to feel in control. Dr. Claire McCarthy writes on Parents.com that eating also becomes a low-priority activity when there are towers to build, dolls to dress and a world of other possibilities to explore!

When to Worry

Dr. McCarthy states that a loss of appetite in toddlers is rarely a concern. However, contact your doctor if your child is:

  • losing weight
  • complaining of a stomach ache or other pains
  • vomiting, having diarrhea or blood in his/ her stool
  • experiencing a fever, cough or other signs of illness

What you can do to

    • Be patient and have perspective. it may seem that your toddler is eating next to nothing. However, if they aren’t showing symptoms outlined above, they are likely just listening to their own hunger cues. Also, they are trying to establish their control. Remember the adage, “It takes two to tango”. If your child doesn’t want to eat, and you insist, meal time has turned into a senseless battle. A standoff of wills. Offer encouragement. If it doesn’t work, wrap up the food or leave it out for when she is hungry.
    • Have Tupperware and/ or cling wrap on hand to save any food that remains uneaten
    • Give choices. No, I am not saying be a short order cook. All I’m saying is if offering food choice is inconsequential, offer them! For instance, for breakfast, quite often I let my daughter decide between two cereals. At snack time, I let her decide on where she sits at the dining table or at her own table we have from IKEA.
    • Let them help! When it’s safe for them to partake in making a meal, do so! They will feel empowered, will learn as they go, and likely will sample throughout.
    • Offer nutrient dense food as often as possible. It only makes sense; if they are skipping meals, when they eat, it needs to be good stuff as much as possible.
Photo credit and idea from Jennifer Bishop Design
        • Make food exciting with these ideas:

      • Mini bento style meals or bites size food in an ice cube tray are interesting and also offer choices.
      • Dips, such as all-natural ranch, caesar dressing, mayonnaise or humus make veggies more flavourful and fun.
      • A creamer filled with milk on the side of cereal means a toddler can pour the milk themselves.
Photo credit and idea: themodernvintagemom.com
Photo credit and idea: themodernvintagemom.com
    • Fill the bottom drawer of the fridge with small containers or little ziplock baggies of cut fresh fruit, veggies, and/ or cheese to allow your little one to access healthy food themselves.
    • Make popsicles. We received a set similar to these as a gift. I chop fresh or frozen fruit, top with a little bit of juice and freeze. Or, I will simply pull the lid off of some all-natural yogurt, place a straw, or popsicle stick inside, and freeze.
    • Get sneaky by incorporating vegetables in their favourite foods! My daughter loves pizza and pasta. So far, she happily eats vegetarian pizza and will eat this spinach pasta by Giada De Laurentis.

Do you have tips on how to get your toddler to eat, eat well, or eat healthier food? Please share in the comment section below.
xo Alana

 

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