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Toddler Eating

Vanessa T.
VANESSA T.
Pediatric Dietitian
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Goldfish, Cheerios... Do you have a little one who just wants to gobble snacks galore? Feeding a toddler can be tough. But, have no fear! Pediatric Nutritionist, Vanessa Thornton, is here to help.

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VANESSA ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Teethers
MEGHA, PARENT OF 3 YEAR OLD, 11 MONTH OLD

Hi there,
When’s a good time to introduce puffs and teethers?
My son is 6 months but has only had puréed solids and some with a bit of texture.

Also when can I start giving cheese in the meal like with pureed potatoes or broccoli ?

Thank you!

Vanessa
VANESSA

Hi Megha,

When you say teethers, do you mean toys meant for teething like rings or meshes? If so, those are safe to use as soon as you baby shows signs of teething.

Puffs are great to try when your child shows signs he is ready for finger foods because they allow him to practice picking up food and getting it to his mouth with low risk of choking. That being said, there is little nutritional value in most puffs and it is best not to get your child in the habit of wanting these low nutrient snack foods instead of meals through the day. I would wait until
8 months or so and try to include them as part of meals rather than giving him handfuls through the day.

Cheese, like yogurt, you can introduce earlier than straight cow’s milk because the lactose content is lower. I usually recommend introducing at 8-10 months. This also gives your child time to explore the taste of other foods like broccoli plain and develop a taste for it before introducing delicious cheeses on top. :) Avoid cheeses like Brie or blue cheese to start and stick with mild cheeses like cheddar or Monterey Jack. I would start be shredding and melting these cheeses onto foods instead of offering cubes or string cheeses as they can present a choking risk. I’d also avoid processed cheese products- real food is always best!

MEGHA

Awesome thanks! :)
For teethers I mean like those teething crackers by plum ...

So you think wait for cheese and yogurt until 8 months too?
If yogurt is okay, I planned to get plain and add puréed fruit myself ...

Vanessa
VANESSA

Ah yes! Teething crackers can be used as soon as you feel you baby is ready and would benefit but same rule applies- don’t get in the habit of filling up on these instead of real foods!

I would wait a bit on cheese and yogurt. Your idea to add our own purées is great! Remember that babies should have full fat dairy products to help give them what they need.

VANESSA ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
My 13 month old won’t eat finger foods (or any fruit and veggie)
CRISTIANE, PARENT OF 3 YEAR OLD

Hi,

I have a 13 month old who hates fruits and veggies. I’m tired of resorting to pouches and crackers so that he’ll eat something. I tried making sure he’s hungry at meal times but even then he’ll refuse to eat and I don’t want him to go hungry, so I end up giving him a pouch. He won’t even try it...it’s just so frustrating! Any suggestions would be highly appreciated.

Vanessa
VANESSA

Hi Christiane,

Toddlers are adorable, but boy can they be frustrating!

First off, your instinct is spot on to avoid just feeding your son pouches and crackers. Eventually, he will learn to eat a variety of foods and the sooner you can help him get there, the easier it will be on everyone.

Do you have a sense of why he doesn’t want to eat them? Some kids at this age are simply testing the limits in all aspects of life. Do you think this is a behavioral thing and he is trying to understand what he has control over and exert his independence? Or, is there something else at play here? Does he seem truly anxious about trying new food or have any physical problems like choking or gagging?

If it’s behavioral, know that all toddlers go through this charming stage and that he will grow out of it. The important thing is to give him structure and make it clear that you still have some say in his eating habits. Ellyn Satter specializes in picky eaters and talks a lot about the “division of responsibility” at meal times- you are responsible for WHAT your child eats and your child is responsible for HOW MUCH (or if!) he eats. Basically, if you offer whole fruit only at snacks, your son can take it or leave it, but he is not allowed to substitute for crackers. It will be tough for the first few days, but eventually he will realize this rule is here to stay and will begin to honor his hunger instead of just his cravings. You can read more about this theory here:
https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org


If the issue seems to be more of a physical or psychological response like a hypersensitivity or fear or textures, flavors, food appearance, etc. he may need more support. You can set aside special time to work on trying new foods that is separate from mealtime. Try setting up a game or activity- offer 3-4 fruits or
Veggies with his favorite condiment to dip in and talk about which one he likes best and why. Keep the conversation light and fun but focus on the positive aspects of food and how delicious they taste. Don’t force him to eat as this will just upset you both. If this doesn’t work and there seems to be a more serious issue, you can find a local dietitian or feeding therapist to help your son slowly get more comfortable with the concept of trying new foods. I’m also always available for more support!

CRISTIANE

Thank you so much for this. I read the Ellen Satter stuff, I’ll definitely try it.

Vanessa
VANESSA

Let me know how it goes! Just keep in mind that it takes patience and persistence- he probably won’t come around after one meal but most kids are eventually successful at breaking their picky eating habits.

VANESSA ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Water
MICHELLE, PARENT OF 4 YEAR OLD

Hi! What do you think are the best ways to encourage my daughter to drink more water? She often cries for "juice boxes"? (We only give her the kind that is mostly water, but we don't always have them around and I don't want her drinking them all the time of course. Are there any sippy or straw cups that you recommend?

Vanessa
VANESSA

Hi Michelle,

Great question- it can be tough to get our little ones drinking water. Especially when they know other delicious things like juice or chocolate milk exist!

I love your idea of finding a fun sippy cup to make it more interesting. I know some parents that have tried more than ten cups just to find the right one! Unfortunately, it’s largely individual preference so my best advice is to take your daughter to the store and let her choose a fun new bottle. Some kids also do well with any cup but like drinking through straws- you could even try using the straw from the juice box she likes. Some kids do well with a designated cup just for water- maybe one with her name on it? Or you can try straws with crazy shapes- even glasses! https://www.amazon.com/Generic-Drinking-Glasses-Novelty-Children/dp/B01N0E5DTM

Flavoring water can be a good or bad thing. I discourage parents from using water flavoring drops, powders or other mixes to avoid lots of sweeteners and chemicals. I do, however, think natural flavoring can be fun. Try adding strawberries and citrus fruit to a big pitcher of water. It looks more appealing and tastes great!

VANESSA ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Hates fruits and veggies
KIRSTEN

My 1-year-old refuses fruits and veggies. I've heard a little bit about OT being used to help here, but don't know much. Is this a texture thing? Could you explain further?

Vanessa
VANESSA

Hi Kristen,

Feeding Therapy is a newer concept and one that I’ve seen a lot of kids do well with. Typically, an Occupational Therapist (OT, Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) or team of both with evaluate your child by observing them eat and asking some questions. They purpose is to help you figure out why they are having trouble with food- is it Sensory? Behavioral? Or maybe they actually lack strong muscle control for the job of chewing or swallowing some foods? r/>
Once you decide on which issues are at play, your child will attend sessions to work with their team on trying new foods or practicing the skills they need in order to be successful. There are usually some goals to be completed at home between sessions.

The great thing about this intervention is that you work on the root issue rather than letting frustration mount at home. The child can become very comfortable with their team over multiple sessions and, perhaps the best part, it takes the pressure off of your relationship during mealtimes at home!

I would definitely recommend it if you think this sounds like a good fit. I know that insurance coverage for this sort of thing varies greatly, so be sure to call your insurer before you get started. Good luck!

VANESSA ADDED A NEW COMMENT!
Terrible twos... ?
ANDREA

My 2-year-old still fights me at meal time! Any ideas for easy, fun meals I can prep with him? I'm hoping that getting him more involved in the process will help.

Vanessa
VANESSA

What a great idea! You can have him help with any recipe as long as you stick to safe, simple steps (think: measuring pasta or shaking the noodles once they are in the strainer). If you want some more toddler friendly recipes he can get more involved in, try these ideas:

- smile face pizzas: use premade dough and have him help you roll it out. Let him decorate the pizza with veggies and proteins to make a smiley face or any other design.
- lasagna: allow him to layer the cheese, sauce and noodles in the pan before baking
- shake and bake chicken: fill a large plastic bag with flour, Panko bread crumbs, cheese and your favorite seasonings. Place raw chicken strips in the bag and seal. allow your child to shake the bag to coat each piece, then bake in the oven until well cooked.
- Power balls: for an easy breakfast, combine oats, dried fruit, peanut butter and honey in a large bowl. have your son help you mix it up into a dough-like consistency then roll them into balls. Refrigerate and serve a few each morning.

For more recipes and ideas on ways to engage your hold in the kitchen, check out ChopChop magazine. I love their recipes and and tips! http://www.chopchopmag.org