What To Do When Your Toddler’s Appetite Takes a Time Out

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on June 29, 2003 · 0 comments

Toddlers are a study in contradictions that often spill over into frustrating and unpredictable eating behavior.

Q. My 15-month old has totally lost his appetite. What should I do?
A. Nothing! It’s perfectly normal for a toddler’s appetite to decrease. A baby grows almost 10 inches and triples his weight in a year. Between age 1 and 3, toddlers grow only 6 inches and gain about 9 pounds. At the same time, toddlers become more independent and start to exercise self-selection. This all adds up to a little person who may eat small amounts of some unusual combinations of food.

Q. My 22-month old can use a spoon and fork but insists on eating with her fingers. What should I do?
A. Always offer utensils but don’t be surprised if she passes them up. Between 1 and 3, eating is part of a child’s overall learning experience. They see, touch, feel, smell and may finally put some food into their mouth. Peas roll, juice splashes, spaghetti wiggles, and crackers break. Rolling peas across the high chair tray and breaking every cracker — though messy — is a normal part of development.

Q. My 18-month old only eats cottage cheese. Won’t she get sick?
A. Food jags are very common at this age. Go along with them, within reason. Offer the cottage cheese she loves every day for breakfast, along with a small serving of cereal and juice. With lunch and dinner, do the same, a small serving of cottage cheese along with regular choices. At first your toddler may refuse to eat anything but the cottage cheese. This is a stubborn age. Be patient. Once she figures out that you’re always willing to offer a little cottage cheese, the other choices will become more appealing. And don’t be surprised if one day, very soon, she turns up her nose at cottage cheese and falls in love with peanut butter!

Q. Should I force my toddler to eat food he refuses?
A. Research has verified that those parents who try the hardest to get their kids to eat the “right” foods wind up with the pickiest eaters. Don’t make a big fuss about food refusals. Toddlers are very smart. If you worry openly about what he eats and when he eats, you’ve just given him a powerful weapon to manipulate you. Offer at least 3 foods at each meal. If one is refused, let it go, but keep offering the rejected choice because, after a time, little ones will get curious and give it a try.

For Dad: Research has shown that toddlers closely mirror their Dad’s eating behavior. If you don’t eat your vegetables, don’t expect your child to.

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