How to help your toddler eat

Before diving into this article, please note that it reflects personal experience. I recommend consulting a doctor, doing necessary tests, and seeking specialist advice. I encourage mothers with children of similar ages to share their experiences, as generations can vary significantly. For instance, our child is part of a „generation” of children with severe gastroesophageal reflux, excessive bloating, and lactose intolerance. I say „generation” because in mom groups, discussions are predominantly about these issues, especially among children born between 2019-2021.

 

One positive outcome of the pandemic is that moving communication online has created mom groups where members know more about each other than they would if they were busy taking their kids everywhere or leaving them in others’ care.

Anyone with children knows how challenging it is to introduce new foods. Many know how hard it is to wean a child off milk (not necessarily breast milk). I read about many mothers exasperated by weaning methods, tricks to help their children eat, and menus to ensure a balanced diet for their little ones.

We went through a protein phase for a while. No meal was without meat and cheese. Until four months before this article, my child would eat pasta with cheese, then pasta with cheese and chicken, polenta with cheese, sour cream, and meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Today, he won’t touch pasta or polenta after 6-7 months when he accepted little else. We used Hipp pasta because it was quick to prepare and gluten-free. I give him gluten, but whenever possible, I also give him diet food as it helps with digestion. There were periods when he only drank milk, alternating with milk plus food. Some days he wouldn’t touch any food. He had days when he only ate pretzels and drank water.

 

He went through phases of eating bananas and fresh figs (when in season). He wouldn’t accept other fruits, although during the introduction phase (6-12 months), he ate all fruits except oranges and watermelon. After the banana phase came the apple and pear phase. He only ate these fruits. He had periods of eating and drinking milk. He gained weight and grew taller. He is 2 years and almost 3 months old and weighs 20 kg, but wears clothes for 3-4-year-olds. He’s a strong boy. From about 1 year and 6 months, our pediatrician recommended weaning him off milk completely (lactose-free formula) because his weight was high for his age. I struggled for about 7 months to wean him off milk. I couldn’t completely wean him off. I managed to reduce the quantity for a while, but then he returned to his needs. At one point, I replaced milk with water. He drank up to 2 litres of water at night, requiring 15 diaper changes, and soaking the bed. We struggled until one night I lightly slept and heard his stomach growling. I decided to give him milk because he was genuinely hungry. We decided to stop struggling. Now, at 2 years and 3 months, he suddenly started asking for food frequently and reduced milk consumption. He now wakes up 3-5 times (depending on how tired he is) at night, instead of 20 times. He drinks about 500 ml of milk/day compared to 1-2 liters/day.

 

Tricks to Help Kids Eat a Varied Diet

Our child currently doesn’t want to eat vegetables. He had a phase where his meals consisted of cheese, cheddar, and tomatoes. Then, he switched from tomatoes to cucumbers. Now, he gets hungry often and asks for variety but refuses almost everything with a tantrum. Besides eating only certain foods, they must be cut to a specific size and served in his child-friendly dishes. Otherwise, he won’t eat. I had to observe his preferences and try to „trick” him into eating. So, I started adding small amounts of blended, seasoned vegetables to his omelet. Of course, with meat, cheese, cucumber, and bread on the side, all cut into cubes. He won’t eat a classic omelet. If he tastes the yolk, he won’t go near it. I found two options: egg white omelet with grated meat and spices or classic omelet with milk (to soften the egg) and grated meat.

 

Today, I managed to get him to eat stew, but not just any way. I took the potatoes from the stew, cut them to the desired size, added cheese and chicken nuggets (his new favorite). He’s also gone back to his first love: bananas. He has completely forgotten about apples. You can make nuggets in the oven instead of frying them. If you choose the 100% homemade option, use boiled chicken, blended with a vegetable to make it sticky, and homemade breading (find recipes online). To save time, use the freezer, especially since children’s tastes can change monthly. I admit I can’t always make everything 100% homemade, tasty, and according to my child’s culinary preferences. I work online from home, do house chores, and spend time with my child. To make everything 100% homemade and organic, I’d need to raise my own chickens, cows, and goats, take care of them, cook, and look after my child with my husband. I can’t always guarantee that eggs from farmers or milk are fresh, collected cleanly, or from healthy cows. There are risks involved, just as there are with supermarket food. I believe everyone makes choices based on personal beliefs and life principles. Hence, I don’t make recommendations in this regard, although our family leans towards natural food as much as possible.

 

Precautionary Advice for Feeding Young Children – Avoid Sugar!

I know from other mothers that some children crave sweets. Our child doesn’t like sweets. He rarely tastes homemade fruit cakes or Petit Beurre biscuits. I don’t recommend sugar because it’s addictive, and I urge caution with sweets. Even when offered, they should be homemade, with honey or natural sugar alternatives. This advice comes from a sugar-addicted mom with weight issues who understands the disastrous effects of sugar. I can eat lots of fruit or healthy cakes, but until I have something sugary, I don’t feel calm. My parents aren’t to blame; it could have been any relative or friend offering sweets. My issue is addiction, but anyone can develop it.

 

Useful Takeaways from This Article

As mentioned, I don’t promote specific recipes or menus, nor do I set myself as an example. For many mothers, I could be the perfect example of what not to do. Beyond personal tricks and discoveries, several key factors have helped me maintain a good relationship with my child. These include patience, attention to the child’s behaviors and needs, and empathy. Patience is a quality some people have, others don’t, and some acquire because they want it. Patience with a child means feeling love instead of anger at the peak of stress and frustration. Instead of yelling, it’s a deep, painful sigh that, when it ends, leaves only love. Our sigh works almost always. Our child knows it signifies our pain and usually calms down on his own.

Attention to a child’s behaviors and needs means spending a lot of time with them, observing, feeling, playing with them, and trying to understand why they do certain things. For example, after our child asked for food and we offered what we knew he liked, he would start screaming and rolling on the floor, still asking for food. Regardless of what we gave, he rolled on the floor. Initially, we thought he was tired and sleepy. But our child refused everything because the food wasn’t in his bowl. We tried all options until we understood what he didn’t like. Or, he asked for milk, then refused it with a tantrum. We eventually understood that he wanted milk with the lights off because he wanted to sleep.

 

Empathy for children means remembering our childhood and understanding our child’s feelings and emotions. It’s the most precious and challenging ingredient to obtain. For example, you might realise they seek attention when a child does something naughty, despite warnings of consequences (mainly pain from falling, stepping on toys, etc.). Or, a child refuses to sleep despite being exhausted. We remembered that when we were excited or pleased with a day, we didn’t want it to end and forced ourselves to stay awake. Sometimes, no matter how much we wanted to sleep, we couldn’t. Our child does the same. Sometimes we give in and let him play while we doze off. We don’t scold or force him; we stay with him, play, and make him feel welcome in our lives even when he doesn’t follow any adult rules or habits. Today, for instance, he came to sleep with me, bored of being alone, and decided to keep me company.

Everywhere, in media and at any physical meeting with specialists or not, there are various recipes for mothers with compliant children. There is no such thing. I don’t recommend following trends. I’ve heard of many trends since childhood (from adult conversations), later from other „obedient” mothers, and through advice from mothers, mothers-in-law, aunts, and the cheerful group of „wise old women.” Trends change, but traumas remain! Some trends include teaching children to sleep alone early, be patient from a young age, dress, eat independently, use the potty early, play alone, be sociable, and be weaned quickly (around one year). These trends don’t account for each child’s uniqueness, focusing instead on mass measures and actions.

None of these trends consider love and how to show it to the child, as they assume children can’t understand. But they do! Sometimes they understand more than we do. I don’t believe love for children should be conditional or involve painful treatments. For example, „I’ll teach him to use the potty early for his benefit later.” I say it won’t benefit him if he wasn’t ready when the process started. Here are concrete cases of children traumatized by being forced (gently educated, in some opinions) to use the potty before they were ready.

In conclusion, besides all the advice from everywhere, pay special attention to the emotional support of your child and family. The more relaxed the home environment, the greater the acceptance, and the more family-oriented (regardless of how unusual or new the needs are), the easier it will be to remain close as a family. Love each other deeply!

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