Q&A: 12-month-old eating issues

Please excuse any incoherence. I just got off the red-eye after a weekend of too much fun and not enough sleep.

Liz sends in a two-parter:

"A) My 12-month-old (boy, only child), who was a champion eater from birth until about 10 months, is becoming increasingly picky. I have always made all of his food, and he went from eating (with great relish) every vegetable under the sun, along with plain yogurt and tahini and lots of fruit etc. to a repetoire of pasta, fruit, dry cereal and crackers. I've tried dicing up the veggies I used to give him pureed and he just spits or throws most everything overboard. I've also been trying to introduce meats (he had tofu before 12 months, but no actual meat) but he seems to dislike the texture. He'll try a piece and then spit it out. So far he's rejected fish, chicken and turkey chili (very mild). I know this usually happens at around 20 months, so I'm surprised it's happening so soon with us.

2) He's starting to throw highchair tantrums in the evenings when we all sit down together for dinner. He doesn't do it at daycare and he doesn't do it during the day, but come dinner time and he's a mess after 15 minutes max. Dinner is also the hardest time to get him to eat anything. He'll play with his food a little bit and then start screaming to be let out of the chair. I honestly don't know what to do. Should I let him out and finish dinner in peace? Or should we force him to stay in the chair until we're all finished? As it is, I'm keeping him in the chair for as long as I can by constantly trying to give him new foods (meaning, he'll refuse dinner after a few bites and start screaming, so I'll try to give him a piece or bread or cracker to occupy him. After that's done he'll scream some more and I'll give him some fruit.) It doesn't really work and I worry I'm creating bad habits. Any advice?"

This thing with the baby not eating at right around a year old, even after months of chowing down, is really common. It's so common, in fact, that it should have a name, so we can all just refer to it as a known phenomenon. Maybe we can call it The One-Year Eating Regression (TM). 

IMO, The One-Year Eating Regression is about the baby's growing desire for control over his or her own body combined with being too excited about all the other things going on to eat, combined with trying to separate from you. So the rejecting foods isn't because of the taste, per se. It's more about only wanting to eat things he can feed himself and just not caring enough about food when so much other great stuff is going on. He may also be enjoying your reaction to his rejection of foods.

Nutritionally speaking, the old adage that he won't let himself starve is true (assuming no metabolic or other disorders). If you're really worried about nutrition, keep nursing or giving formula. Yes, you can switch to cow's milk at a year, but there's nothing saying you have to if you want to make sure your nutritional bases are covered.

So continue to offer a variety of nutritious foods, but the whole plan of introducing new things on a schedule is going to have to go out the window, since he's going to want to choose what he eats instead of following your plan. They to surviving this emotionally for you is just to let it go, and genuinely stop worrying about what he eats. Almost all kids do this, and the parents who survive it best are the ones who don't get tied up in knots about it but who also keep offering nutritious choices.

The same attitude is key to surviving High Chair Follies. He has plenty of time to be socialized to sit and eat politely once he's actually eating. (Oh, and he eats more at daycare and with other people because they just don't care as much. It's always the way. Sigh.) If you're trying to train him to stay at the table, you'll have more luck if you keep him at the table until he starts to fuss, then let him down right away. Gradually he'll be able to sit longer periods of time. But forcing him to sit while you're screaming isn't really accomplishing what you want it to, and it's just making everyone miserable. The older and more verbal he gets, the easier it will be to teach social conventions and manners, so don't worry about it when he's barely a year old. At this age it's more important for him to see you sitting and eating calmly and politely than to have him up with you during the whole meal.