Toddler Feeding and Expectations

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Feeding toddlers can be challenging.  So challenging, that I offer a class (and group coaching) on feeding toddlers and creating peaceful mealtimes.  I cover nutrition in this class, but, it might surprise you to know, this only a small portion of the class.  Many of my posts and handouts contain information with suggestions to help your child with feeding and at mealtime. But in this post I want to explain why: why your child might be more picky or selective as they approach toddlerhood. I find it can help us as parents and caregivers feel more compassion when we understand that there is reasoning behind the changes.

1.  Slowed growth means slowed appetite
Most babies triple their birth weight by one year of age.  This is the fastest growing period throughout our lives.  This number slows down significantly after one one of age.  Slowed growth for some toddlers, means they may not eat as much or have as large of an appetite. They are not growing as quickly so they do not need as many calories per unit body weight to sustain themselves (make sense? Yes, they need more calories as they get older, but compared to a unit of body weight it’s not as much).   Many parents feel concerned when this happens, yet, this is completely normal.

2.  Growing Language
As toddlers get older, they become more independent and have the ability to request food. They have a voice and they want to use it. Both of my daughter’s have gone through various phases when their favorite phrase was “no.” It didn’t really matter the question: do you want a snack? To take a nap? To go on a walk? Young toddlers are experimenting with what they can ask us as caregivers and how we will respond.  

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3.  Erratic food intake
Just like adults, some days children are more hungry than others. Some days their body may not feel too hungry, other days they don’t seem to stop eating! This can go along with nutrition as well. Some days they may seem to gravitate toward fruits and protein, while other days it’s carbohydrates. That’s why when I work with 1:1 clients I have them complete a 3, 4, or even 7-day food record. When looking at a child’s nutrition status it is important to take an average intake into account.

4. Fear of new food
Sometimes called food neophobia, fear of new food may occur as infants develop into their toddler years. New foods may seem overwhelming, or scary. I found it interesting in my research, that this was originally deemed a survival mechanism. Evolutionarily speaking, the fear of new foods was beneficial, preventing our ancestors from ingesting toxic plants, which were typically described as bitter. As our food environment is completely different from even hundreds of years ago, some of that fear of new food may be innate but unhelpful or irrelevant.

5. Food Jags

Food jags refer to a food your child used to eat quite often, but all of the sudden, they’ve stopped eating that food. This can be really common in toddlers, and can be addressed with a few robust strategies. I have a whole post with strategies to prevent and avoid food jags, but what’s important to think about is that this is a normal developmental stage in toddler development and can lead to picky/selective eating and toddlers dropping foods that they were once eating.

These are but some of the many challenges that toddlerhood can bring. What has been your experience? If you have a specific question, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.