11 to 36 Months: Feeding Your Toddler

After eating enthusiastically as an almost-toddler, your toddler’s eating will suddenly become cautious, erratic, picky, and fickle. Many times, she will only eat a few tastes, swallows, finger-fulls, or bites. Other times, she will eat more than you can imagine.  Do not try in any way to get her to eat. Instead, give her both clear leadership and a sense of control. Get started with family meals, if you aren't having them already. Give leadership by offering foods you choose, at sit-down meals and snacks, at regular and reliable times. At meals and snacks let her decide how much and even whether she eats from foods you have put on the table. Keep yourself comfortable by understanding her normal eating behavior. Let her get down from the table when she loses interest in eating and/or starts to misbehave. Teach her to play quietly while you finish eating. You are following a division of responsibility in feeding.

Don't teach eating for emotional reasons

Your toddler is at high risk for learning to use food for emotional reasons. Toddlers are active, unceasing in their demands and prone to get upset. It is tempting to give food to quell the riot. Don't. Instead, stick to scheduled feedings and sort out whether your child is hungry or sad, full or tired. Give attention, discipline, hugs or naps.

Maintain the quality of your feeding relationship

  • Get your focus off what your child eats and on to how your child feels and behaves at famly meals. 
  • Have 3 meals a day at set times and eat with her - don't just feed her. Offer her sit-down snacks every 2 to 3 hours between times.
  • Offer her the same safe food you offered when she was an almost-toddler.
  • Even though she will be skeptical even of food she has eaten enthusiastically before, do not short-order cook or limit the menu to foods she readily accepts. Instead, be family friendly in your meal-planning.
  • Let her eat her way - fingers or utensils, fast or slow, much or little, 1 or 2 foods, several helpings or none at all, and in any order - even if she eats dessert first. Don't make her finish one thing before she has another. Don't make her clean her plate. 
  • Say no when she begs for food or drinks between times, except for water.

For more about feeding your child, see Ellyn Satter’s Feeding with Love and Good Sense: The First Two Years. Also see www.EllynSatterInstitute.org/store to purchase books and to review comprehensive educational materials that teach stage-related feeding and solve feeding problems.

See also: Division of Responsibility in Feeding and Division of Responsibility in Activity 

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©2016 by Ellyn Satter published at www.EllynSatterInstitute.org. You may reproduce this article if you don't charge for it or change it in any way and if you do include the for more about and copyright statements.