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Toddler Tips

A Slow Start to Solids

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 11 No. 6, November-December 1994, pp. 186-8

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My daughter just turned three, and though she'll eat fruit and a few other foods, frequently a day or two goes by when she hasn't eaten any solid food. I am comfortable with her continued nursing, and though she is petite at 25 pounds, she is growing and energetic and her doctor says she is healthy. Her brother was also petite but ate a variety of solids at this age. I have trusted her up until now to know her needs; however, I receive so many comments about her size it is beginning to undermine my confidence. What can I do to help her learn to enjoy eating more foods?

Response

As a mother of three "picky" eaters, I have found that when children get hungry they will eat. I would not be too concerned, as you have said that your daughter is energetic and growing. By offering a variety of foods that are wholesome, you are giving your child the opportunity to regulate her own likes and dislikes. This is a real plus in this day and age of children and adults with eating disorders.

Younger children will generally find foods that their older siblings enjoy appealing. I know that if my two-and-a-half-year-old sees my five-year-old with fruit or a whole grain muffin he wants it. My daughter would eat foods that I gave fun names to: golden raisins were bumble bees, cantaloupe was antelope, cheese wedges were mouse cheese, etc.

Since your daughter is a nursing toddler, you can be assured that she is still getting at least one meal a day that is the "perfect food." When I expressed concern about my own children's fussy eating, I was told a multivitamin can fill the gaps.

Susan Schubert
Brodheadsville PA USA

Response

I can really relate to your situation. My daughter, Heather, is also a petite three-year-old at 27 pounds. She once went three weeks eating nothing but yogurt. If I have any advice, it would be to always have plenty of the foods your child does like on hand to eat whenever she is hungry. Do not restrict the times your child eats, but do have her sit at the table with the family at meal times. At meal time put a bite or two of what you are serving on a plate, ask your child to pick one of the foods on the plate and to take one bite, that is all. I think you will be surprised at what your child will try. My daughter doesn't remember the names of foods, so when I ask her if she wants something she says no. When I put it in front of her she says "Oh yeah, I like those." Keep trying—just because she dislikes something this month doesn't mean she won't like it next month. Go with your instincts and don't worry what other people say. It is okay to have a petite child. If your child is healthy, happy, and growing, there is no problem.

Lianne Learnard
Lunenburg MA USA

Response

My three-year-old daughter is an intermittent eater. However, she will eat almost anything presented in a new way. I put cereal in interesting containers such as a pill box or a heart-shaped box. I cut carrots into "coins" and let her "spend" them. I've used small crackers as "tickets" for running around the house. It's a bit more work, but fun, and I love seeing the food go into her. Good Luck!

Kathleen O'Connell
Julian PA USA

Response

My daughter is also three years old. She still nurses a couple of times a day and usually eats pretty well. However, she occasionally goes through a "phase" where she doesn't seem to want to eat at all. Another mother shared a really neat idea with me; instead of putting her food on a plate and expecting her to sit at the table to eat, try putting her food in a muffin pan. Each cup can hold a small serving of bite-sized food. Place the muffin pan on a low table, or in the seat of a chair where it will be easily accessible to her. Then, she can breeze by, grab a little snack, and go on with her playing. She seems much more interested in the little snacks in the cups (tiny carrots, raisins, fish crackers, apple chunks, cheese cubes, etc.) than she ever is when I give her a plate of food. And if you line the muffin pan with paper muffin cups, you don't even have to wash the pan!

LaJuana Oswalt
Sherwood AR USA

Response

My daughter, Michaelle, turned three this month and weighs only about 27 pounds. My doctor is not concerned, and since I'm also petite (five feet one inch, 110 pounds), I'm not expecting her to be as tall or heavy as some of her peers. When she was 18 months old, she had increased her weight by only a couple of pounds over several months, was nursing often, and showed little interest in solids. I had been following Dr. William Sears' recommendation to make a "nibble tray" available, but felt this wasn't sufficient. By observing Michaelle more closely than I had been, I discovered three factors which seemed to affect how she ate.

At twenty-one months, Michaelle was an only child who had spent little time around other children during mealtime. When her three cousins (two of them with very healthy appetites) came to visit us for several weeks during the summer, her previously nonexistent appetite suddenly appeared. She began asking for foods I had never thought to offer. Perhaps she needed more variety than I was offering, or perhaps she just needed to see other children eating with enthusiasm to encourage her own interest.

I caught myself conveniently offering nursing as a snack instead of taking the time to fix a new item for her nibble tray. When there were other children in the house, I took more time to make healthy snacks available, and Michaelle became more likely to eat a snack rather than nurse.

I noticed that Michaelle ate much more for her grandmother than for me or my husband. I realized that Grandmother sat with her throughout mealtime, giving Michaelle her nearly undivided attention while discussing the food or anything else, and keeping Michaelle focused on the meal. At home, Michaelle received far less attention amid our daily routines, and was even likely to be sitting at the table alone after I had finished eating and had begun to clean up. When I began lingering over my own meals, and staying at the table with Michaelle after I'd finished eating, her interest in staying at the table improved significantly.

Attachment parenting wins again! By observing my child more closely, spending more time with her, and recognizing her individual needs, an otherwise worrisome situation seemed to vanish. Your daughter may or may not benefit from the above tips. She will benefit from careful observation and evaluation of both her nursing and eating needs by you, the person who knows her best.

Anne Bundy
Flint MI USA

Response

My first son, now four-and-a-half, has always been reluctant to try new foods. He enjoys a very limited number of foods, and when he was nursing ate few solid foods. He was weaned by 18 months when I was pregnant, but still didn't eat much. He was small, though healthy, and generally doctors weren't concerned about his size. I wasn't concerned about his size either, but since he was no longer getting breast milk, it was important that he ate nutritious foods. Like you, I wanted my child to enjoy eating more. Looking back, I can remember some things that helped him develop better eating habits.

When he was about two, I drew and colored pictures of all the foods he had ever agreed to eat. I cut them out and taped them to a chart on the fridge. I drew a line down the middle of the chart, and each day would start with one side blank and one side filled with pictures of the foods we had on hand. Each time he ate something he got to move that item's picture from one side to the other. He liked finding and moving the pictures, and was encouraged to eat a better variety of foods because he could see all the foods that he liked that he had not yet eaten that day. We did this only for a few weeks, but it seemed to make a lasting difference in his attitude about eating.

His aunt gave him a fun plate, cup, and spoon set for Christmas in hopes that it would encourage him to eat. The plate was divided into sections that I could fill with different foods. He loved it!

I found that if I asked him if he wanted a particular food, he would often say "no." However, if I prepared a snack and simply handed it to him, he would often say "thank you" and eat it. That worked for quite a while.

He rarely will try new foods if his dad or I offer them, but other children have encouraged him to try cheese, carrots, rice cakes, and other new foods. We avoid buying sweet cereals, white bread, and chips. When they are in the house, he won't eat the whole grain cereals, breads, and fresh snacks that make up most of his regular diet. He gets enough of those "treats" at parties, friends' houses, etc.

Now he understands concepts like what fruits and vegetables are, which foods are healthy ones, that he needs to eat breakfast to feel good, and that it's not good to eat the same food all day long. It's easier to reason with him. He does eat unconventionally, often having cereal for dinner, refusing all meat, eggs, cooked vegetables, and nearly all dinner-type foods, but his diet is fairly well rounded. I believe it's important to continue to follow his lead as I teach him to eat well. I want him to stay in touch with what his body can tell him about what and when he needs to eat. I think that will have a great impact on his long-term nutritional health.

Dawn Nelson
West Valley City UT USA

Last updated Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by njb.
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