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

My 13mth son eats well but only when he is distracted which make mealtimes long and stressful.

My 13 month old has always eaten what I have cooked. He doesn’t have a problem with new tastes or foods but he has a serious problem with eating without being distracted.

As soon as he has had a couple of mouthfuls he turns away, moans and reaches out in the other direction. If we get to touch his lip with the spoon he will open his mouth and eat it but this doesn’t last long so we resort to all sorts of toys as distractions. As soon as he is distracted he will eat the whole lot but this can be a nightmare and can be very frustrating especially if we want to eat out anywhere. I can’t quite remember how it started. I think it was after he had been poorly and was refusing food and when we gave him a spoon or other object he would eat and it gradually got worse from there.

He is not very good with lumpy bits either and often spits them out. He will chew food if he takes it in his hand. If big bits are on a spoon I think he tries just to swallow it.

Do I stop the toys altogether and if he refuses, take him out of his high chair and hope he will get the message ? If so, do I not let him have anything to eat until his next meal i.e. no snacks? I don’t give him many snacks anyway and if I do they are usually good snacks.

My son has a 7oz bottle morning and at bedtime. He has Weetabix or porridge and brown toast at breakfast. He eats a home cooked lunch and tea. He will have a little fruit puree or yoghurt to end his meal. His snack maybe a goodie bar.

He naps at 10.45-11.45am and 3.45-4.15pm. He is settled at 7.30pm.

Now is the time to get your son more involved with feeding himself. This can be messy and take time but he will be more interested in his meals if you let him become more involved. A 13 month old has a very short attention span. He is probably on the go all the time when not sitting in his high chair and being fed. Distracting him with toys may mean he eats his food but he is not learning the vital skill of spoon-feeding himself.

Cover the floor under his high chair with a plastic sheet or newspaper. Use the best all-in-one bib you can find. It may be easier if you remove any jumper or sweat shirt he is wearing so you can use a bib with sleeves. Be prepared for the mess which is inevitable when a baby first begins to feed himself. Have one or two clean face cloths nearby which are washed after every meal. Put his food into a bowl which has partitions. You can buy plastic ones which can be suctioned to his high chair tray or his high chair may include a portioned tray insert, which is ideal. Have plenty of spoons and baby forks to hand as some are bound to end up on the floor.

Although your son does not appear to like lumps when he is spoon fed he seems able to cope with finger feeding himself. Begin to offer him his meal laid out in separate amounts so he can see and choose what he eats. For example: using a bowl with divisions, place a spoonful of chicken casserole in one section, some chopped green beans in another, a few pieces of baby corn in another and a spoonful of mashed potato in the last section. Offer your son a spoon or baby fork and show him how to spear a piece of chopped chicken or bean. His first attempts may not be very successful but this is a skill he will learn in time if given the opportunity. Whilst he is busy trying to feed himself you may be able to pop in one or two spoonfuls as well. Try to make sure all his meals contain food which he can easily cope with, even if he ends up using his fingers most of the time. Accept that food will end up in his hair and ears and mop him up from time to time as the meal progresses, but not too much as he will just get annoyed at the constant interference whilst he is trying to feed himself.

If the meal you are offering is not so easy to divide up i.e. thick vegetable soup offer him a suitable finger food, such as a piece of bread roll or mini sandwich, to dip into the soup whilst you spoon feed him. By giving your son finger food you will keep his attention on his food and you should not need to resort to toys and other distractions at every meal time.

After the first year a baby’s appetite often decreases. If your son is not interested in his meal after about twenty minutes, even though you feel he has not eaten much, end the meal. Constant coaxing and prolonging meals in the hope of “just one more mouthful” may turn him into a fussy eater and turn meal times into food fights. Offer him an appropriate snack at the usual time if you feel he is hungry then but, otherwise, just let him wait until his next scheduled meal. He may be hungry at some times of the day and eat a big meal but, at other times, only eat a small meal. If you are worried about his intake keep a food diary over a whole week. This will give you a better picture of his eating habits than just looking at each day’s intake. Babies of this age will often have one day when they seem to eat little followed by another when they eat a wide range of foods. An overall view of your son’s eating habits will probably reassure you that his nutritional needs are being met.

The most important thing to remember is to keep mealtimes calm and relaxed. Include him in family meals as much as possible. Watching you eat will encourage him in his efforts. The messy stage will be over in time; the more he is allowed to feed himself the quicker this will happen.