Q&A: feeding issues at 8.5 months, 15 months, and 2 years

A trifecta of feeding issues for the weekend.

Tina writes:

"I have a question about my 8 1/2 month old's eating, or rather lack thereof, habits.  To be honest,  I am actually not that concerned right now, but I am wondering when I should be concerned.  My son is breastfed and because I am fortunate enough to work from home part-time, he rarely takes a bottle. He has always been a snacker, eating on average in less than 10 minutes.  We introduced solids at 6 month starting with rice.  We pureed everything else, except applesauce. 

He can chew, although occasionally he spits it (and everything else) back up.  We have also introduced finger foods, mainly whatever bland items we are eating at dinner.  I have given no thought to weaning him and had fully planned to breastfeed for at least a year. We have no history of allergies in either family.

I guess since I am writing you I am probably more concerned than I am willing to admit.  I just don't know when I should truly be concerned about his development if he doesn't start eating."

He actually sounds dead-on normal to me. There are many, many kids who like eating right at around the 6-month mark because it's new and exciting and they get to do what the big people are doing. But then it's just not as interesting as crawling or rolling or staring at ceiling fans or blowing raspberries. And being spoon-fed totally loses its appeal, so they only want to eat things they can feed themselves, but even that gets boring soon. So they hit a dip in eating (both amount and variety).

The cure is pretty much the same cure to most baby-related problems: Wait a few months and it'll all change. Keep offering your son foods he can feed himself from what you're eating, or snacks during the day of healthy things like big pieces of apple, banana, avocado, cheerios, etc. Since he's still getting most of his nutrition from breastmilk anyway, it's not a big deal if he's not eating as much as he used to. If I were going to bet money, I'd bet that he'll start putting food away at around 13 months (another time kids seem to suddenly start eating if they didn't before). It'll be easier then because he'll have more deterity and more teeth, so he'll have a wider range of available options.

The lovely Dee writes:

"I'm having a tough time with my 15 month old daughter when it comes to eating. Since she is my first child, I've not had any previous experience with the palate and dining preferences of little people :-) so I'm at a loss on how to proceed.

The tough part is not the eating itself, per se, but coming up with foods that she'll want to try (and hopefully like). Many times, I'll simply give her some of whatever my husband and I are having for dinner but in many instances, she doesn't care at all for it (e.g., grilled sirloin diced into small pieces, etc.). I then must wrack my brain to come up with something else I think she'll like.

There are certain foods she loves so often I'll rotate those but because they are  limited in number, I don't want to bore her with repetition of them. They include smoked turkey breast, macaroni and cheese, green beans, spaghetti with sauce, club crackers, hot dogs (without 'skin' and cut into pieces), watermelon, goldfish crackers, and a few other things. Not exactly the healthiest menu but she steadfastly refuses many new foods we try or she'll like them at one sitting and then not touch them the next time I serve them to her.

Even though I know that no two children are alike, I was wondering if perhaps you or your gracious readers can recommend some other foods that their children have been fans of. I figure that way, I can perhaps start adding some to our rotation and see if any become favorites. I can think of no other way to expand her eating horizons at this point in time.

Please keep in mind that she's not really good at using silverware yet (she tries but just can't seem to connect food with utensil and then with mouth) so most foods I serve are 'finger foods' in nature--easy for her to pick up and get into her mouth sans utensils."

Here's my theory, and I don't have any evidence except anecdotal evidence, so take this for what you're paying for it: I think that at around the age of 2, kids stop eating the things they ate when they were younger because refusing food is one of the only ways they can exercise control over their lives. So that means that a kid who eats 20 different things at 15 months and a kid who eats 250 things at 15 months will both probably end up eating the same 20 things from the ages of 2 to 4.

I was reading a post Danielle at Foodmomiac wrote about making foods for your kids' lunchboxes, in which Danielle pointed out that adults get bored eating the same things every day, but kids truly like to repeat things and have the same things to eat all the time:

"I, personally, need variety in my daily lunches. Small children do not. Small children are happy with Mac and Cheese or PB&J every day. Please, please, please remember this when making your lunches. The goal is to make your kids happy, while providing nutritious meals. The goal is not to win a school lunch award."

So the lack of variety is more of a problem for us than it is for the kids, and how many foods we introduce them to now will have nothing to do with how many they eat when they're 3, and may not even have anything to do with how many they eat when they're 30.

Having said that, the foods I'd recommend trying are rice and beans, quesadillas (cut in wedges and served with salsa to dip them in), baby carrots, edamame, corn on the cob, pieces of avocado, yogurt, hummus (either on pita wedges or fed to her with a spoon), baked fries (either regular potato or sweet potato--cut the potato, toss in a little oil and salt, and bake at 350 until done), and cut pieces of fruit (big enough that she can really grab them and shove them in).

Anyone else have any ideas for Dee?

Nikki writes:

"So my 2-year-old son seems to think that anything but junk food is the devil. I can not get him to eat things that he once loved. What can I do to get him to eat the once-loved foods.  Any suggestions?"

Wait until he's 4. And I'm kind of serious about that. I'm not sure there's much a parent can do when a 2-year-old is using food choices as control. You don't want to engage in a battle of wills, because it's not good for either of you or for your relationship. Plus, a child has more energy and boldness, so he'll probably win. You have to use your patience and wisdom to wait him out.

One thing you can do is not buy the junk food so it's not available in the house to him. (Or hide it really, really well so you can eat it when he's in bed for the night. Not that I'd know anything about that.) He may not want to eat the nutritious foods you subsitute for the junk food, but eventually he will eat at least some of them so he doesn't go hungry.

Another thing you could do is trick him into thinking things are junk food that actually aren't. A guy I know was told by his mother that dried fruit was candy, and she only allowed them to have it on Sunday nights after supper, so he grew up thinking prunes and raisins were a special treat. Hee. If you could ration out healthy snacks and pretend you weren't sure he was really allowed to have them, you could make him think they're something he wants to eat.

You could also try outsourcing his eating as much as possible. The control game is one he really wants to play with you, since you're his mother. He won't care as much about doing it with a babysitter or grandparent, so if he spends time away from you, ask whoever's with him to try to get him to eat with them. Odds are that he'll eat better for them than he will for you.

Whatever you end up doing, don't let him know that his lack of eating bothers you. Be unemotional and nonchalant about it, and he may come around more quickly because it's boring not getting a rise out of you. But know that it's super-common, and we all grow up despite not eating anything all day for weeks on end when we're 2. He'll probably make up for it when he's 15 and eat you out of house and home.