Feeding FAQ: 12-18 months – Food Fads/Fussiness

My son of 1yr has lost interest in his breakfast and needs coaxing to eat all his meals.

My little boy has completely gone off breakfast. I understand this is a natural stage of development but he eats so reluctantly with lots of coaxing and then gets hungry and upset midmorning so I give him a small snack which then affects his appetite for lunch.

I have tried lots of different cereals, most of which he used to enjoy. He seems to enjoy the more “grown up” ones such as Rice Krispies, mainly as his Dad has them I think. However he doesn’t have anywhere near your recommended 50g, it’s more like 25g or half a weetabix.

I always offer finger foods of toast, with various spreads and fruits so I don’t know how else I can offer greater variety.

He drinks 180mls formula slowly using a beaker so is not particularly bothered by that either.

He likes a lot of milk before bedtime [240mls] so I tried reducing that to 180mls but it had no effect other than him waking up an hour earlier and chatting in his cot.

I have noticed at all mealtimes that he doesn’t like eating in his chair. He wants to get out after about 10minutes but will eat happily whilst on the move in the playroom. I though this was he was just starting to walk and has always been an active baby. I don’t think this is a good habit to get into but do want him to eat as he is small for his age.

7am, breakfast: 180mls formula from a beaker, half a weetabix or 3-4tablespoons other cereal. Half a banana or handful of grapes. Half a piece of toast with butter and spread. All eaten with little interest and lots of coaxing.
If given a snack mid morning it is generally a small piece of fruit.

11.45am, lunch and 5pm, dinner: protein meals, both approx 30g meat/fish, portion of carbohydrate, portion of vegetable. Yoghurt, fruit or cheese.

Every day is pretty much the same.
His snack in the afternoon at 2.30-3pm is either fruit, cheese, malt loaf or toast.
6.30pm 240mls formula.
Water offered through the day. My son weighs approximately 22lbs.
He naps at 9-9.30am and 12.30-2.30pm. He settles at 7pm.

Over the age of one year a toddler’s appetite may decrease. His growth rate begins to slow down and, despite seeming to use up more energy as he learns to walk, climb and run, he does not need larger amounts of food to keep him going. Indeed, the reverse may happen and he will seem to eat very little at all. During the second year a toddler will gain, on average, around 5lbs 8ozs, showing how much the growth rate slows.

It is easy to become worried about your child seeming to eat very little and for you to start all manner of tactics to tempt him to eat. This may result in your child becoming fussier and refusing most food. Your child will readily pick up on any tension you may be feeling over this issue and play up for all the attention that can be caused his refusal to eat.

Prolonged coaxing or chasing your son around as he walks, to get him to eat more, is not to be encouraged. This could lead to more serious issues over eating in the following months. Your attitude to the problem is most important. You need to stay calm, so meal times can be enjoyed by you both. One of the best ways to do this is to eat your meals at the same time as your son. Now that he is over a year old he should be able to enjoy most of the food you prepare for yourself and his father. Sit with him at the table so he can enjoy the social side of having a meal, as well as watching you enjoy your meal, which will encourage him.

Once your son starts to refuse to eat any more of the meal, or begins to play with his food, remove him from his chair and end the meal. Don’t offer him alternatives or let him enjoy a dessert if he has lost all interest in his main course. At this age a toddler will resist being constrained in a chair once he is no longer hungry. Once he is down from the table don’t be tempted to give him “one more mouthful” as he runs around. He needs to learn that eating takes place at the table. Until his next meal or snack time is due resist offering him anything to eat or drink.

Set the times for your son’s meals and snacks and stay with them. Unless you need to be out of the house early in the morning you could try giving your son his breakfast around 7.30am and see if he is hungrier once he has been up a while. He may then be able to wait until 11.45/12 midday for his lunch, without the need for a snack mid morning. Until his eating improves at meal times only offer him fruit as a snack.

Keeping a food diary over a period of at least a week will help you see the full picture of your son’s food intake. For several days he may eat very little, and then have a day when he eats bigger portions at most of his meals. Looking at his intake of all the food groups he needs over the period of a week should help you see that on the whole he is eating a well balanced diet.

Some mothers do find that by moving their child into a booster type seat, providing it has a safety strap, can help with the problem of a toddler who wants to get down from his chair after a short space of time. Your child will then be sitting at the same table as yourself which will help him feel included in the mealtime.

The way that you present your son’s food can also encourage him to eat more. As well as using attractive plates and bowls, make sure he is aware of exactly what is being offered to him. He will be very aware of textures and colours now so separate the different items of his meal. Using a plate which has divisions is useful for this. His protein meal of meat, vegetables and carbohydrates is ideal to serve in this way. Chop the meat portion finely and place it in one division. In a second division offer him a small but varied selection of vegetables, chopped, sliced or diced. Be aware of the colour combinations. Use two or three small florets of broccoli with a spoonful of diced carrots and some frozen peas rather than just two vegetables mashed together. Place the carbohydrate portion in the third division. This means he is able to choose what to eat next rather than having it all in one bowl mixed or mashed together.

Encourage your son to self feed as much as possible. By arranging his meals in an attractive way he will be tempted to pick up the pieces to eat. You can give him a spoon to scoop up mashed potato, or he may enjoy using a plastic baby fork if you show him how to stab at pieces of vegetable and meat. This can be a messy stage so be prepared by covering the floor under his chair, covering him with a suitable bib, preferably with arms, and having several clean, damp flannels close by to clean him up at the end of the meal.

While your son is seeming uninterested in food give him small portions on his plate, so he is likely to finish all the food. Praise him for eating well and increase the portions by a very small amount each day until he is eating a suitable sized portion for his weight and age.

At breakfast replace your son’s cereal with natural yoghurt and fruit. He may enjoy finger feeding himself a small handful of Cheerios or Shreddies as well. This smaller breakfast should give him a bigger appetite for lunch. Only offer him a snack of fruit if he seems really hungry.

With more of an appetite your son should manage to eat his 50g portion of protein at lunchtime, as well as a selection of vegetables and carbohydrates. Offer him a drink of water after he has eaten at least half of his main course. Drinking too much water, either between or during meals, can knock the edge off a toddler’s appetite very easily. If he does not appear to be thirsty whilst eating wait until he has finished his meal before giving him a drink. Offer him water at his snack times but do be aware of how much he may be drinking if it is on offer throughout the day.

Keep your son’s afternoon snack to fruit only until he begins to eat more at teatime.

Once your son is eating his full protein meal at lunchtime you can begin to offer him a carbohydrate rich tea which can be things he will find easy to eat if he is getting tired. This meal can be mainly finger food. Try vegetable and cheese sticks with dips such as cream cheese, hummus or avocado. Make a one egg omelette, fill with grated cheese or another suitable filling and roll it up. Cut it into slices so your son can pick them up easily. Mini quiches and home made pizzas are usually quite popular. If your son still seems hungry after his main course you could offer him a small bowl of cereal if he is not having much at breakfast time.

A toddler will enjoy being offered a variety of food, just as we adults do, so make yourself a menu plan for one or two weeks, offering him plenty of variety both at lunch and tea. Have a look in The Gina Ford Baby and Toddler Cook Book if you need some ideas.

A way to cut back a little on his bedtime milk, and so help him be hungrier for breakfast, is to offer him a small drink of milk at teatime and then give him 150-180mls [5-6ozs] in his beaker at bedtime. This means he would still be having in excess of the recommended 350mls[12ozs] a day, if you include the milk used in cooking as well as the milk that he drinks.

There are two case studies which may help you. Theo, page 98 of The Contented Book of Weaning and Daniel, page 127 of The Contented Childs Food Bible.