Toddlers and Picky Eating

This blog post has been in the works for quite some time but perhaps it’s apropos to publish it on Mother’s Day. For all the mothers reading this post- keep up the awesome work!

Several weeks ago I received a request to write a post about feeding toddlers. It’s a fantastic topic! Many parents are incredibly cognizant that they want to raise healthy kids- well-nourished, healthy weight, and willing to eat a wide variety of foods (not just treats!). Since I am not an expert on the topic, I turned to my colleague Katie Bartels MS, RD. She is a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders and child feeding. You can check out her website here or follow her on Facebook here. I highlighy recommend following this girl on social media if you are particularly interested in how to feed your child well without fears of causing unhealthy food obsession in your kids. 

Below are Katie’s thoughts on the subject of helping your toddler eat well. I will follow her thoughts with some helpful resources for you to consider. Happy reading, happy eating!

Babies and toddlers can be very different eaters. Babies grow rapidly in the first year of life so they tend to eat a lot! Babies under a year have not yet developed the insight to know that there is a difference between broccoli and a cake pop. I’m never surprised to see an under 15 month old when I hear a mom say “my child will eat anything.”

As babies turn into toddlers, growth slows…as does appetite. Toddlers become more aware of their surroundings thus picking up on details of food more than ever before. Parents can get into the picky eating trap if they do not realize this milestone and only feed toddlers foods they readily accept. It’s important to have a strategy when feeding kids and raising healthy eaters. I teach the 80/20 rule for feeding. Offer 80% nutritious foods and 20% fun foods. Fun foods are foods we just eat for taste…not nutrition. Its important for children to learn to manage sweets.

Parents can help with managing sweets by following Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding. Parents are in charge of the what, when and where and children are in charge of how much and if. I tell parents that they are in charge of what foods they bring into the house. Feed your kids the foods you want them to learn to like. Help them manage sweets by offering them in unlimited quantities every so often at snacks. A good rule of thumb is to offer more opportunities for sweets if your child is overly focused on them. Children who are obsessed with sweets have usually been restricted of sweets at some point. Other children could care less about sweets, so for those children parents may not have to offer them as often. Serve a variety of foods. Serving variety allows kids to challenge themselves with eating.

I tell parents not to label foods as “good” or “bad” as this may set the stage for judgement about themselves whether they eat the so-called “good” or “bad” food. Parents do well staying neutral about foods and quantity eaten. If parents do their job…children can be trusted to eat enough to grow into the body they were born to have.

Resources from Expert RDs

Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility

Ellyn Satter’s Children, The Feeding Relationship and Weight – References

What to Do When Picky Eating Doesn’t Get Better: 5 Part Blog Series

Jill Castle –  America’s Childhood Nutrition Expert