The toddler years begin a time when eating is not high on your child’s priority list. Most young toddlers are getting around on their own by now, either as early walkers or very fast crawlers, and there are too many things to learn and explore that are more important than sitting still for more than a few minutes. Visible growth also slows down after the first birthday. Your baby won’t gain a lot of weight but will get taller. He will start to display food preferences, stop eating foods previously loved and exhibit real signs of independence. And things can change daily! The easiest way to get through this period as a parent is to maintain flexibility and a sense of humor!
Feeding Your Toddler: 12 to 24 months
After the first birthday, whole milk can replace formula. Babies fed on soy formula can wean to soy or rice milk; breastfed babies should continue nursing until mom and baby decide it’s time to wean. You will notice a significant drop in milk drinking because it is no longer the major part of your child’s diet. Toddlers should be offered fluids by cup only, as bottle-feeding can damage new teeth, even before they have come through the gums. Also, if you haven’t made a visit to the pediatric dentist yet, this would be the time to make an appointment.
Keep it small. Continue to offer small amounts of food to your child and allow him to ask for more. Many little kids are not able to use utensils at first and will use their hands. However, you should avoid the temptation to feed them yourself or resort back to baby foods. They will learn the skills needed to get a spoon from plate to mouth by observing you but will take the easier path if they know you will break down and feed them.
Likes and dislikes. Although your child may have a fair number of teeth, the chewing molars are not yet in. Avoid foods that are “chokers”: hot dogs, raw carrots, chicken fingers or anything that can get stuck in the throat. Toddlers love pastas, cheesy foods and foods they can pick up themselves. Cereal with milk is difficult to eat, but dry cereal with a glass of milk is acceptable. Oatmeal is always a lot of fun! They don’t usually like combination foods like casseroles because they can’t always identify what’s in them. It is recommended that peanut butter be avoided before the second birthday because it can also cause choking in some children.
Set some rules. As children become more mobile, it’s a constant fight to keep them in a chair to eat, but you must set some rules that your child is expected to obey. If you want your family to gather at mealtime, your little one should understand that he must also be present, at least for the start of the meal. If he does not want to sit, he should not be given food. He will soon learn that eating means following the rules. Actually, many children who are resistant to sit probably aren’t hungry, and it is important that mealtime not become a battle for attention from the rest of the family. Let him go on his way, and when he comes back to eat, put him in his chair. Again, avoid the impulse to hand him something to eat while he cruises around. I promise, he will not starve!
Susan M. Leisner RD, IBCLC, RLC Nutritionist & Lactation Consultant
Parenting advice is given as a suggestion only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider.