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

Should I be concerned about my 17mth old son who does not want to eat? Is it just a phase and problems with teething?

Can you advise me when I should start worrying that my 17month old son isn’t eating anything? I have read the FAQ’s and fussiness is obviously a common problem at this age but he seems to be eating even less than the other children featured. Also, his milk consumption is very low – between 5-10 ozs a day. A molar has come through very recently, which probably caused him some discomfort, but this has been going on for about four weeks now. It’s not that he’s fussy – he just does not want to eat. I’m remaining calm and treating it as a phase he’s going through but I’m wondering if there may be something else wrong and need to seek medical advice. He’s a happy little boy and sleeps well but he doesn’t seem to have as much energy as normal – obviously because he’s not getting any energy. Is this just teeth and something I just have to see through?

A typical day intake is as follows: Breakfast: scrambled eggs and baked beans with a piece of toast, 3 mouthfuls eaten and ½ banana. This is given with a beaker of water. Lunch: lentil and vegetable Bolognese with spaghetti. 1 mouthful taken, and then spat out, handful of raisins’. Water given at lunch and at 2pm. Tea: Broccoli florets, pieces of carrot, baby sweet corn with some humus and Quorn sausages, broccoli munched on but spat out. Few mouthfuls of yoghurt. 8oz milk offered before bed, only 3ozs taken.

My son sleeps from 12.30-2.30pm and settles at 7pm to 6.30am.

Although your son is sleeping well, his lack of energy could be a sign that he is not eating enough and it should not be ignored. It would appear that you are following a vegetarian diet so it is very important that he does eat enough iron- rich food to prevent him from developing iron deficiency anaemia. Take your son to the doctor to discuss his lack of appetite.

It is true that toddlers of this age can be quite fussy over food and they also have a smaller appetite than when they were younger. Offering healthy meals in a calm way, and removing the food when it is obvious that your son has finished eating is a sensible way to deal with this phase. But most toddlers who seem fussy and eating little still have endless reserves of energy, which indicates they are receiving enough nutrients for their needs.

Keep a food diary of your son’s food intake. Note the times of his meals and write down exactly how much food he ate and what it was. This will be useful to show your doctor and help him see if there is a problem. Over the period of a week most toddlers’ food intake will even out and be fairly balanced. Although on a day-to-day basis a toddler’s intake can look small, an overall picture usually enables a parent to see that a toddler is eating enough food for him to live life at full speed.

Your son’s molars may well be causing him some discomfort, although this should not have continued for 4 weeks. Of all the teeth to come in, these last four can cause some problems and a toddler may have less of an appetite for a few days. Plan small and tasty meals, which use plenty of colour, texture and variety. If his teeth and gums are clearly bothering him give him easy food, such as mashed potato and grated cheese, which will not involve too much chewing. Offering him his food at a slightly cooler temperature will make it easier for him to eat. It may help to rub some teething gel on his gums about twenty minutes before a meal is due.

Make him some homemade smoothies with fruit and yoghurt and serve them with their own spoon. Make up some ice-lollies, using moulds which can be bought from kitchenware shops. Use diluted fruit juice or natural yoghurt flavoured with fruit puree. These both may be soothing to him if he is still in discomfort with his teeth.

To encourage your son to eat more at each meal make a real effort to present each meal in a cheerful and fun way. Use different plates and bowls or find other small pieces of crockery to in which to serve small portions. For example, a novelty egg cup could be filled with a small amount of yoghurt. Keep the portions you offer him very small so he is not overwhelmed by the amount of food on his plate.

When your child has been checked over by the doctor you will know whether you are just passing through a phase with him or whether he is unwell. If it is just a phase, continue to deal with it in the calm way you have described. Keep offering him his food but remove it when he appears to have had enough, even if that is just a few spoonfuls. Use nutritious finger foods to encourage him to feed himself such as cheese sticks; omelettes; quiches with vegetable fillings; pasta shapes with a vegetable or cheese sauce. Always offer a very small amount at first as this will encourage him to empty his plate.

Sit and eat as many meals as you are able to with your son. He will enjoy your company and learn that there is a social side to eating too.