How to feed a finicky toddler

Ah dinner time. For some, a welcome whole family catch-up at the end of the day. For others, a bitter fight that ends with frustrated kids and parents.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Be sure to read to the end to find my favorite source of advice on feeding children.

Why is my kid suddenly so picky?

“Picky eating often surfaces around one year—a time when many children are beginning to feed themselves.  They can now choose what and how much to eat, giving them  some degree of control over their lives.” SOURCE

What can I try to save us from mealtime battles?

“Many parents worry about what their children eat — and don’t eat. However, most kids get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets over the course of a week.” SOURCE

What food should I try feeding my toddler?

“When asked about what to feed a picky eater, I totally drew a blank and thought of all the food Milo routinely dumps on the floor. His pattern was so erratic that just when I thought he was finished with his meal, because he’d tossed half of it on the floor and started asking for either “dow(n)” or “nigh(t) nigh(t),” he’d actually begin eating his meal again with gusto.” SOURCE

What could I be doing that makes eating even more problematic?

“A toddler’s rejection of favorite foods is natural, but could become problematic when you mistakenly assume that it means “I hate this food and I never want to eat it again.” SOURCE

How can I make sure my child gets enough of the right foods?

“Toddlers from one to three years need between 1,000 and 1,300 calories a day, yet they may not eat this amount every day. Aim for a nutritionally-balanced week, not a balanced day.” SOURCE

But seriously, how can I stop the food battles?

By far, my favorite source of advice on feeding children is Ellyn Satter. But her recommendations are foreign to most people.

Mostly, I’ve heard people say ‘but I wasn’t raised that way, I had to eat specific amounts of each food and my child should too.’

Just because children once roamed the backseat and “turned out fine” doesn’t mean car seats should be avoided. And just because parenting used to involve letting young children drink beer and wine every day with dinner doesn’t mean it’s a safe option.

Satter’s main advice is this: parents are responsible for feeding and children are responsible for eating.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy to think that offering your child more freedom is the answer, but please listen.

The idea is that parents are responsible for feeding: what food is offered at what time and where. Such as parents choose a variety of food for the child, choose that the child will have the food available for a set amount of time and in a specific location.

And then the parent’s responsibility ends.

If your child wants to eat ALL the bread and NONE of the carrots, you let it happen.

That’s the crazy part parents usually can’t get over. That forfeit of control is just too much.

But Satter says this division of responsibility will grow the relationship between parent and child.

“When you maintain the quality of your feeding relationship rather than worrying about what or how much your child eats, your child will eat and grow well and, sooner or later, he will learn to eat almost everything you eat,” Satter says.

Here are some starter Satter links, but please peruse her website as it has specific recommendations by age and eating problem.

Sonya Quick

Full-time mom, freelance journalist and dancer. Loves cooking, listening to good music and drinking craft beer.