Friday, November 9, 2012

Toddler eating battles

Callum was a great eater until he hit about 13 months old. He ate everything: fruit, meat, cheese, vegetables, grains. If we put it on his high chair tray, he would stuff it in his mouth. See?


Side note: when looking for that photo, I found this photo, and then I died:


Back on topic: I don't remember exactly when it changed. I remember when we went to PJs@TJ's, he borrowed Penny's high chair and ate a bunch of foods that he'd never tried before--but I remember also that he threw some of it on the floor, which was new behavior at the time. So I'm pretty sure it started sometime around then.

He spent the next few months eating... pretty much nothing except the occasional carb. By March, when Elizabeth came to visit, he was in full-on not eating mode. It was specifically frustrating since Hannah is such a fantastic eater. We watched her stuff her face with chicken and lima beans while Callum threw literally every single food item we offered him directly on the floor.

For awhile we tried offering him a million food items in a row. If he threw one thing on the floor we'd be there with the next. We tried ignoring, scolding, keeping the dog out of the room during meals, reacting, not reacting. We tried water during meals and no water during meals. We tried offering a million options and only offering one option. We tried feeding him and letting him feed himself. He just. Did not. Want. To eat.

So... we gave up the battle. I did some research and embraced the following philosophy: eat it, don't eat it, don't talk about it. In other words, as his parents, we can control when he eats and what he eats. He can control whether he eats and how much he eats. And I was not interested in making it into a stressful battle. So, we started just putting him in his high chair at meals, giving him some of whatever we were eating, and then he could do what he wanted with it. We wouldn't give him much, because what he usually wanted to do was throw the food on the floor. And when he did that, we didn't react in any way. We kept the dog out of the room so she couldn't react either. And when mealtime was done, it was done. No other food, no milk, nothing. Just, he ate or he didn't eat and then the meal was over.

We were lucky that he is so big--we didn't have to worry about him failing to thrive or anything. In fact, while he wasn't gaining much weight he was growing length-wise, quite quickly. But I didn't really see a correlation between his eating habits and his weight gain. He tapered off significantly by 7 months, and by 9 months even more so. In fact, in the year since then, he has only gained maybe 3-4 pounds, but he's grown about six inches.

Eventually his eating habits improved somewhat. I couldn't name a date when it happened, so it must have been a gradual thing. It helped that he now always eats with a spoon or a fork--he seems to like that much more than eating with his hands. He still has a strong preference for carbs, and will consistently eat quinoa, pasta, rice, bread. We've found ways to incorporate fat and protein into those--quesadillas with cheese, bread with hummus or peanut butter, etc. He is a big fan of yogurt. Sometimes he'll eat bananas and not other times. He almost always picks the vegetables out of his food and hands them to us while saying "all done." He does love those pouches of pureed fruits and veggies, and they are so outrageously expensive that we don't give them to him often, but sadly he won't eat purees on a spoon or in any other format. I think basically he just likes to drink a lot more than he likes to eat and the pouches feel like drinking to him. (And no he doesn't like smoothies in a sippy cup, sadly.)

One thing he does like is soup. I have discovered that we can get him to eat almost anything if it's in soup form, including solid chunks of meat and vegetables. Of course the one food that he can't feed himself is the one he likes most of all, but I'm not complaining. (Really it's probably the salt that attracts him, but I'm trying not to complain about that either especially as his diet is generally minimally processed and low in sodium.) But if we're ever at a restaurant and one of us has soup, he will say that he's all done with his own food (even if it's mac and cheese, his usual favorite) and practically dive out of his high chair trying to get our soup while saying, "This? Soup? THIS? SOUP?" repeatedly until we start feeding him spoonfuls of it.

So! I guess I'm on the hunt for soup recipes, is my point. And maybe also someone with the patience for spoon-feeding a nearly-two-year-old. Or maybe I should just blend up chunky soups and put them in a sippy cup for him to deal with on his own.

Generally, though, even though he's not a super avid eater, things have improved immensely. And I think a huge part of it is our hands-off philosophy. It might not have gotten him to eat better, at least not right away, but it DID save our sanity, and that's equally important. At least when your one-year-old is over 30 pounds.

What about you guys? Have you had issues getting your toddlers to eat? Any tips, tricks, approaches, foods that worked especially well? Or things that didn't work at all?


  1. We still struggle with this to some extent, and Madeline is four. She has All The Opinions about what she wants to eat and why. One of the things that helps most is involving her in the prep of dinner - if she makes it, she's interested in eating it, even if it's something she's typically wary of. She doesn't eat a lot of meat, and helping to make dinner is about the only way we can get her to eat any. At Callum's age I'd usually give her a spoon and bowl to play with while I was cooking, and if I was feeling generous some dry ingredients to "mix" and she loved that too.

    It sounds like you're doing everything right - I admire that you can be so calm about not fighting him at mealtimes. It took me a long time to learn that lesson!

  2. I have my super fussy niece living with me but here is a soup she can't get enough of:

    Cheese soup

    2 cups chicken stock
    2 cups water (so the chicken stock is going to be half strength or a little stronger if you prefer)
    2 sticks celery (sliced)
    2 carrots (diced)
    3 potatoes (peeled and diced)
    1 large onion (peeled and diced)

    Put all that in a pot, cover and simmer it until all the vegetables are tender. Blend until smooth (I use a hand held stick blender to do this so it can stay in the pot).

    Add three-quarters of a cup of cream/milk and stir through. Mix in one and a half cups of grated tasty cheese (or whatever amount you need until you can taste the cheese) and stir until melted into the soup.

    Serve with bread on the side (delicious when dipped).

    It takes about a half hour to make and most of the ingredients are almost always in the house. You can experiment with hiding some other vegetables in there because it all gets blended to a creamy texture. An absolute winter favourite in our house!

    Perhaps Callum might like minestrone? Chunky potato and bacon soup is another family favourite here.

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  4. My two year old loves soup! I just put it a bowl with very little broth and give him a spoon. Most of it goes in his mouth. We love Italian wedding soup (little meatballs and spinach!) and chicken noodle. Don't worry if he slows down or is picky with his eating, just keep offering.

  5. We drove ourselves crazy with our first toddler trying to make him eat. We were much happier when we went instead for a philosophy like yours. We figured if he started wasting away or being sickly, we'd do something about it, but we're 5 for 5 on that not happening despite alarming stages where it seemed like they COULD NOT SUBSIST on so few calories.

    I had one soup-eater, and I made the soup recipe that is somewhere on my blog, that has ground turkey and mixed vegetables and chickpeas in it.

  6. (This one, but with a can each of chickpeas and black beans.)

  7. food continues to be a struggle for us. Soup-wise we love Soulemama's broccoli potato soup and pouch-wise I recommend these

  8. The organization I work for has lessons specifically geared toward this parental nightmare.

    1. Keep doing what you are doing! It is fantastic that you are staying calm and not turning it into a fight.

    2. Offer two or three options and let him choose what he wants to eat. He may choose the same thing over and over, but keep offering him a choice. That little bit of control over his environment is very helpful.

    3. He might get curious and finally try something new if he sees it often enough.

    4. It is ok if he chooses not to eat. Really. He will eat when he gets hungry. He will get cranky like hell, but try to hold off offering him food again until the next scheduled snack or meal time. (Unless it is hours away, then cave and feed the kiddo!)

    5. Have him involved with picking out foods at the store when he is with you, and have him involved in food prep as is feasible. Even if he does nothing more than bring you a tomato or a carrot or some other ingredient you'd like him to try. Kids are much more likely to try foods if they helped pick them out or prepare them.

    6. He will grow out of this phase. Really!

    7. YOU ARE A GOOD MOM AND YOU ARE PROVIDING CALLUM GOOD NUTRITION. Even if his is being a pain about it. You are doing GREAT.

  9. And I hope I wasn't annoying as hell, seeing as how I do not have any experience in this myself.

  10. Sunday Soup is a great recipe book for every season of the year! We also have a similar mentality when it comes to eating or not eating. We put food in front of him and if he eats, great. If not, we don't punish. We generally find that over the course of any given week, Gavin goes crazy during some meals and eats next to nothing at others. So long as it averages out, I'm ok with that.

  11. Have you seen these?

    If he likes eating fruits/veggies out of the pouches, you might consider buying some of those and then filling with your own might even be able to fill these with soup purees as well. Good luck :)

  12. Babies and food-argh! Hannah is finally not nearly as aggressive about getting it ALLLLL in, which has made meals more peaceful. Interestingly, she's not a big soup girl, but she does like thicker soups, so we made a chicken soup and blended it in the vitamix, so it's kind of a soupy puree? Does that make sense? Think he'd be game for a pumpkin soup?

  13. Favorite last-minute, easy soup: 2 jars of salsa, 2 cans low sodium black beans, 1 carton low sodium chicken or veggie stock. Heat in a pot on the stove & season to taste. Serve with sour cream & cheddar if you like! We also often add more stock & quinoa or rice.