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A Toddler and Her Food: An Evolving Relationship

A reader emailed me the other day asking for an update on BabyC and her relationship with food. In the early days of the blog, I wrote quite a bit about feeding and nutrition, but lately I’ve been distracted by other topics. My next couple posts will revisit food in our family, including some lessons I’ve learned on feeding a toddler. Let’s start with a recap of the story of BabyC and Food.

Chapter 1: Milk Monogamy

These were the days when BabyC was a one-food girl. Feeding was simple and sweet. While we technically breastfed on demand, in practice BabyC and I fell into fairly predictable routines, and after the first couple of months, it didn’t feel demanding at all. She ate when she was hungry and stopped when she was full. She knew that she could count on her next meal being there when needed, so there was no need to worry beyond that. BabyC was exclusively breastfed until she was around 5 months old, but breast milk provided at least 90% of her calories until she was around 8 months old.

{I know what you’re thinking: “Alice! Don’t you know you’re supposed to wait until 6 months to start solid foods?!” At the time, I wasn’t convinced that there was strong evidence for waiting. BabyC had been falling off the WHO growth charts, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get a jump-start on solid foods. Plus, she was grabbing at the food on my plate, and I was excited to introduce her to the tastes of the world. These days, I think that there is sufficient evidence to recommend waiting until 6 months to introduce exclusively breastfed babies to solids. However, as with most recommendations of this sort, I also think there is some wiggle room depending on the baby’s development and desires.}

Chapter 2: A Skeptical Introduction

Anyway, we started dabbling in solid foods around 5 months. Rice cereal was a non-starter, and we quickly moved on to more interesting foods: banana, carrots, sweet potato, and avocado. I offered little flirtatious bites to BabyC. They were colorful and often accompanied by a song. She would usually entertain them with a small taste and then turn up her nose at the rest.

Chapter 3: Head Over Heels

BabyC’s skepticism about food continued until we took her on vacation to Hawaii when she was about 7 months old. I think this was a turning point because I relaxed about the whole thing. We were on Island Time. I stopped trying so hard and just started giving BabyC pieces of good food when we were enjoying it: A bit of French bread as we waited for our dinner at a restaurant, a chunk of super-ripe mango, a spoonful of soft papaya, a bite of my banana.

Suddenly BabyC was enthusiastic about foods. She wanted to try them all! She just wanted finger foods, please. She wanted to control how much and how fast she ate. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask? That spoon just seemed to get in the way, to distract from the goal of getting food into mouth. We ditched the spoon, and mealtimes were suddenly food adventures with limitless possibilities. I focused on offering her a balanced array of healthy whole foods that she could eat herself, and she took care of the rest. Lentils, chickpeas, cauliflower, and mushrooms – she loved them all. She would happily spend an hour in her high chair at breakfast, wondering what bit of goodness Mama would serve up next.

Chapter 4: Better Things to Do

One day, around her first birthday, BabyC started becoming more selective about what she ate. She was particularly skeptical of anything green. This was my girl who used to eat steamed broccoli by the handful! She also started eating less in general, which as a nutritionist, made me worry that I needed to make sure that everything she did eat was of the highest quality. It was disappointing to watch her refuse the healthy food I had prepared and to ask for more bread, please! More cheese, please! And a few raisins, please. I tried not to show my disappointment and refused to call her a picky eater*, certainly not in front of her. I kept offering her the foods that we were eating and assumed that she would eat when she was hungry. But inside, I was worried.

{I realize that there are different degrees of picky eating, and I don’t think BabyC has ever been extremely picky. Selective, yes. If BabyC has become less selective and I share with you some of the things that I think have helped with that, please do not think that I believe all picky eating can be solved with these strategies. I know it is tough.}

Chapter 5: A Long-Term Relationship

These last few months, I have seen a slow shift in BabyC. She’s more curious about strange food on her plate and more willing to try it. She still doesn’t eat a lot of vegetables, but she usually takes a few bites of whatever we’re having. She’s eating more in general – probably going through a growth spurt – and this seems to be making her less selective. Every once in a while, she will surprise me with her enthusiasm for green things, like the other night, when she kept asking for more more more kale chips!

The very next morning, she skillfully removed every single little slice of fresh green onion from her scrambled eggs. I think that it helps that delicious foods are in season now. We’re getting lots of fresh veggies from our CSA and berries and cherries at the farmer’s market and you-pick farms. Fresh produce tastes better, so this is a good time of year to try some new fruits and veggies.

I think we’re seeing BabyC develop a healthy, long-term relationship with good food. I remind myself that it takes time – that she may really have to try swiss chard 8 to 10 times before it becomes acceptable to her. And I think it has helped that we’ve kept a no pressure attitude about food and focused instead on consistent and enjoyable mealtimes. I feel like I have learned a lot about feeding a toddler these last few months. What has surprised me is how little I have drawn on my nutrition knowledge or expert advice. In fact, my most important teacher has been BabyC herself. For my next post, I’ll ask BabyC to share with us her lessons for toddler feeding. I can’t wait to see what wisdom she reveals!

Has your child’s relationship with food changed over time?

  1. kamellia73 #

    Another sensitive and thoughtful post! To answer your question: Oh yes! My little guy, who loved broccoli, now throws it on the floor. He seems to want only very mushy or very crunchy things. We will have to revisit kale chips. He tried them at the farmers market and loved them. It seems a shame to me to cook them to a crisp when we eat sautéed greens so often, but I’ll do just about anything at this point. I’ve been wondering: Does kale retain it’s nutritional value when “chipped”?


    July 17, 2012
    • Hey Kamellia, that’s a great question! I couldn’t find any real data on kale chips per se, but I would guess that most nutrients would be retained during baking. You might see some vitamin loss because of the high temperature, but others would just be more concentrated as the water is lost from the kale. I would guess that this cooking method would keep nutrients in the leaves way better than boiling or even steaming, when the nutrients could leach into the water. If you wanted to maximize the nutrients in kale, you could eat it raw, but how much raw kale are your kids likely to eat?!


      July 19, 2012
      • kamellia73 #

        None! But I made kale chips last night for my kids and cousin’s kids, and they all ate them. They kept asking for more. Win!
        Thanks for the information about nutrient retention.


        July 19, 2012
  2. Sarah #

    Has it ever! Our little boy used to eat everything… then he turned 2, and it was down to about 10 foods (at least those 10 foods included avocado, apple, pear, banana, cucumber, nuts and hummus). But we just continued to offer whatever we were eating, take great and obvious pleasure in eating it, and not cave in and give him special food. Now at a few weeks shy of age 3, I’m pleased to say he’s doing great. Eating (among other things): fish, falafel, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, all fruits, most meat, pad thai… you name it! It was a tough slog for a while, but I’m glad we stayed consistent.

    My advice for picky or selective eaters is: don’t make the child be the centre of attention, and don’t only offer new foods at dinner. Also new/different surroundings can promote a renewed interest (as the other commenter noted) – even spreading a picnic rug on our patio works, or trying a new food in the kitchen straight from mum’s hand.

    Funnily enough, Aidan still won’t really eat rice or pasta, but I’m not overly concerned. I’m sure he will at some point, and I don’t think he’s missing out too much.


    July 18, 2012
    • These sound like great strategies, and they’ve paid off! Glad you have a happy adventurous eater:)


      July 19, 2012
  3. Fortunately, so far, our son has been an incredibly good eater. He still eats just about everything and will try something with a little coaxing. There was a few weeks around 11 months when he started throwing his food on the floor in protest. I started not making a big deal out of it and when he realized he wasn’t going to get a reaction out of me, he stopped.

    I have made it big priority to offer the best and largest variety of foods that I can. My son, who is 15 months now, has surprised me with what he will eat so many times. I am incredibly grateful to have such a good eater. It does gets a little hard sometimes because he’s that kid that will follow you around and beg for food if you have it. But really, it’s so much better than the alternative.


    July 18, 2012
  4. I introduced Georgie to solids at 5 months too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that as long as they’re still taking in the milk. Although he drinks fresh organic cow’s milk three times a day, I still breastfeed him once a day. His diet is excellent compared to other cases i have heard where bread and biscuits are the only acceptable nibbles. Grated cheese and sliced tomatoes-preferably cherry tomatoes- is his favorite snack. He also likes edamame. And broccoli, which we call little trees! I haven’t given him kale chips yet. Maybe I should. I love food posts so keep em coming. x


    July 18, 2012
  5. We are pretty lucky in my house. Our little 14 month old eats everything I put in front of him. He’ll throw food on the floor, but that usually means he’s about done. I’ve stopped giving him Kiwi to eat with his hands because he eats it and cries. I think its a bit too acidic right now. He even likes food with a little spice to it. Food is certainly a big adventure with little ones!


    July 19, 2012
  6. dnvrmama #

    Thanks for the update! So good to hear that things are coming around in the long run!


    July 19, 2012

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