Guest Post: Top 10 Feeding Mistakes Parents Make

This is a guest post from Maryann Jacobsen and Jill Castle, authors of Fearless Feeding.

Fearless Feeding book

As child and family nutrition experts, and co-authors of the new book Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, we help parents learn what to expect in terms of feeding children based on child development. For example, every parent of a baby should know they are in the honeymoon phase of feeding, a time when baby is open to almost any food, making it an important time to introduce variety before kids get more picky around two years of age. In most cases, selective eating at this time is normal as growth slows and cognitive changes occur.

To show you how this information translates to everyday feeding practices, here are 10 common mistakes parents make at each stage of development (including adulthood!):

Infant & Young Toddler (6 – 24 months)

1) Keep on Puree too Long: Babies have a steep learning curve when it comes to eating during the first two years.  Around eight months, most are developmentally ready to pick up small pieces of food and self-feed.  Parents often keep baby on puree too long because they either don’t know this, or they like the control they have with spoon-feeding (and don’t like mess!).  Yet self-feeding aids children’s self- regulation of food and increases the variety they are able to eat.  So give children the opportunity to self-feed early in the game and allow them to learn at their own pace.

2) Don’t Bring Baby to the Family Table: Babies learn to eat by watching others.  Yet it’s not uncommon for babies to be fed separate meals all by their lonesome.  This often translates to little ones getting the same food over and over, instead of a larger variety.  It’s important for parents to know that between the ages of 6 months and 2 years, children are the most open to new food.  Serve them the regular meals you’ll want them to eat later — sandwiches, omelets and stir fries — and eat together as often as you can.

Toddler & Preschooler (2 -5 years)

3) Filling Little Bellies: As babies turn into toddlers things change quickly — language blooms, growth slows and children become more susceptible to environmental cues around food.  Parents often make the mistake of giving into requests for juice, milk and snack foods, which fill up little bellies (the size of a fist) so they don’t eat well at mealtime.  To avoid this mistake, feed on a structure at a designated place (3 meals and 2 -3 snacks) every 2-3 hours.  Keep milk to about 2 cups and juice to only 4-6 ounces per day, with meals.  Keep water the drink of choice between meals.

4) Get Off Track with Picky Eating: In toddlerhood, children become skeptical of new food and previously accepted items (especially veggies).  Most parents don’t understand that picky eating is a normal part of development and they may begin to bribe children with dessert, insist they eat a certain amount, or cater and only provide foods they know their child will eat.  All of these things make picky eating worse and negatively affect self-regulation.  We recommend the Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibility where parents decide the what, when and where of feeding and children decide the whether and how much of eating.  It melts away the battles, keeps eating enjoyable for all, and makes children feel more confident with eating.

School Age (6 – 12 years)

5) Banning Bad Foods: Your child will see all sorts of “bad foods” as he enters the broader world of school and community. When children don’t have access to treats or other nutrition-poor items they may become over-sensitized to them when they go out in the world. Having moderate exposure to sweets, for example, in the home allows your child to balance them in the real world. Don’t make foods “off limits,” rather have them as special treats for special occasions or manage them in a way that creates moderate exposure.

6) No Boundaries in the Kitchen: If the kitchen is open all day and night, your child will not understand that eating happens on a structure, with intervals between meals and snacks for other activities. He may also graze, overeat and lose his sense of appetite regulation. Create a boundary between meals and snacks by stating, “The kitchen is closed until dinner. It’ll be open again at 6 pm,” for example. Be sure to make meals and snacks nourishing and satisfying!

Teens (13-18 years)

7) Letting Go of the Feeding Job too Early: One of the hallmarks of adolescence is an increasing independence, and this may occur with food. Sometimes, parents relinquish the job of feeding to embrace this newfound freedom. Unfortunately, teens can miss the mark on healthy choices and food balance in this situation. Don’t give up on feeding your teen until he is officially out of the house—he has a lot to learn about nutrition as he prepares for adulthood.

8) Avoiding Conversation About Tough Topics: Topics like problematic eating—too much or too little or the wrong types of food—can be uncomfortable for parents to address. The problem is teens often address problematic eating with problematic solutions, such as dieting, fasting, or avoiding important food groups. So don’t be afraid to talk with your teen about your concerns. You can open conversation with “I noticed you’re hungry all the time. Is this something I could help you with?” or “I see that you’re unhappy with your weight—how can I help you?” Your teen may not open up at first, but if you are loving and understanding, with repeated attempts, she likely will.


9) Not Taking Care of Yourself: Parents are typically so focused on their kids’ activities and health needs, they often forget about themselves.  Yet research tells us that parents are powerful role models in terms of the health and well being of their children.  Even when they try to hide things like dieting, unbalanced eating, or disliking their body, kids catch on because they are intuitive creatures and they learn by watching.  So make sure you are included in the to-do list and model the same behaviors you want your child to emulate.

10) Not Planning Meals: When parents fail to plan weekly meals, it increases stress at the dinner time hour and inadvertently decreases variety.  Try planning meals on the weekend by looking at the schedule and deciding what’s best on certain days.  If you have a late sports practice one day, consider making something in the slow cooker so the meal is ready when you get home.  Or you can spend some time on the weekend making meals and freezing them for easy weekday dinners.  The key is to keep trying until you find a system that works for you and your family.

Please feel free to share your feeding tips with us in the comments below!

Maryann Jacobsen
Maryann Jacobsen
Jill Castle
Jill Castle

Maryann Jacobsen is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health blogger and creator of Raise Healthy Eaters, a family nutrition blog.  Jill Castle is a registered dietitian, childhood nutrition expert, writer, speaker and founder of Just the Right Byte, a child nutrition blog.  They combined their experience and passion about feeding kids to write the bible on child nutrition: Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.

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116 thoughts on “Guest Post: Top 10 Feeding Mistakes Parents Make”

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  1. I so agree with #5!
    My Mom was one of those we were only allowed diet soda and very rarely. 1 box of sweet cereal once a month shared between my brother and myself.
    Candy was only for holidays and then hoarded by my Mom and doled out in small increments.
    Guess what….when I got to high school and drove myself to school, I bought and ate a ton of candy. I would eat candy and sugar gum until I made myself sick.
    When I had kids, yes we limited stuff but we also didn’t limit it like crazy. They still get treats and candy but my kids won’t do like I did…. their fav thing to grab at the store is a bagel from the bulk bagel section. And they are in control of their candy and ask before they have anything.

  2. Love everything about this list! I watched my friends three daughters beg for sushi, apples, etc., and made it a goal to have children like that (no begging for soda or candy!)! Now I do! A 4 yr., 2 yr., and a 6 month old. We try to make food joyful, healthy, and involve the children (but we set the boundaries). I truly believe we as parents set the tone for our children’s food practices and this list is a great guide.

  3. I’m encouraged by this post.
    I have a picky eater (7 year old). I offer healthy stuff, he balks. I felt like I was doing something wrong, and that’s what I expected to discover in this article. – the mistakes I’m making.
    Guess we’re on track more than I thought. Huh. Who knew?

  4. #4 really hits home for me. We had succumbed to bribing and negotiating so much and mealtime was so stressful! We are still a work in progress but my main focus is to take out the emotions involved. I have been trying to let my 4 yr old take the lead on how much and what to eat, but I worry because he is so skinny! Fighting the good fight :)

  5. Wow, I really love this post. I learned a lot from it. This is very inspiring. I really like that you mentioned “Don’t give up on feeding your teen until he is officialy out of the house, he has a lot to learn about nutrition as he prepares for adulthood. I have mixed emotion reading this, I really missed my childhood days. Thanks for sharing this. I was moved.

  6. Love this article, although I feel stuck…
    My 2,5 year old is and has always been a picky eater.
    She still breastfeeds morning, nap and going to bed. Eats some things but far from a variety of foods. I love cooking and have always offered her what was on our table to have her eat nothing and nurse way more and be very difficult. It was so frustrating that I am now catering and only provide foods I know she will eat and am stuck in that cycle. She eats cereal (so I get her organic bran flakes, organic cheerios, etc), bread, rice, pasta (I cook the fiber rich pasta and all sorts of raviolis/tortellini in chicken broth)I mix in some cream and cheese as she now refuses tomato sauce, yogurt, any kind of nuts (so I offer those for snacks), granola bars (I buy the Annies berry ones only), organic fruit pouches(abricot/banana/peach), roasted chickpeas, corn, peas, blueberries, raspberries, frozen berries mixes and milk. If I’m lucky, she’ll eat a bite of chicken. I offer new fruits once in a while but that’s it. How do I get out of this? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks a lot.

  7. My son became incredibly picky around age 3 1/2. He is now almost 6 and has just started to be willing to eat veggies and fruits again (other than pureed things like applesauce and spaghetti sauce, tomato soups) … what turned the tables for us was getting his adenoids removed. Turns out that along with causing stuffy nose and ear infections, they caused apnea and an inability to breath through his nose when he was awake as well. So chewing a crunchy veggie caused him to gag and choke because he couldn’t breath and chew at the same time. I noticed that he would eat bites of crackers or chips as well – even though those things dissolve much more easily in the mouth.

  8. This is how I fed my daughter! Mainly because it was the way I and my brothers were raised an it seemed natural. My daughters first food was avocado. She still loves it. Other favorites are artichokes, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, black eyed peas, broccoli, etc. she drinks only milk and water. I limit sweets and, although she asks for dessert often, she knows that it is not an every night thing. I try to serve fruit with dinner and that generally gets the sweet cravings satisfied. I feel fortunate to have such a good eater. And I have sympathy for the many parents I meet who do what so many parents do, and take “the easy way out” of Mac and cheese, fish sticks and hot dogs, etc. Typically they end up struggling when they decide its time to “eat like a big kid”. Their children are simply following the diet they were raised on.

    1. Grazing and over eating only happen when one is not eating nutritious foods.enforcing a rigid structure around feeding is a BAD idea in my book at any age and has been proven detrimental to IQ in babies. IMO structure is not what is needed. It is not the WHENit is the WHAT.

      1. Mary,

        Thanks for your comment. As I dietitian who has worked with many adults over the years I can say that people can still overeat nutritious foods. It’s very important to feed whole, nutritious foods but how one feeds themselves and their children is just as important.

        We do not recommend rigid schedules but instead a flexible and rhythmic eating routine. Kids feel more secure around food when they know what to expect. We explain all the different ways parent can do this in the book.

  9. always skeptical

    Adriana- In my parenting opinion- I would stop offering purees. Your little one will eat if he wants to. Looking at the article above talking about letting your child eat what they feel they need- rather than feeling pressure to make them eat an amount you specify their tummies can handle. Food before 1 is just for one is the Baby Led Weaning philosophy that I found helpful. Breastmilk or formula should be the primary source of nutrition prior to 1 year of age. Anything else is a bonus! Just my two cents.

  10. Love this!!!! As a speech pathologist and feeding specialist, I really appreciate the reference to the DOR method, and the overall tone of this piece! Love that the author’s writing is so realistic, honest, clear and concise!! Great tips!!

  11. I would have thought the top feeding mistake parents make is the “You must eat everything on your plate” rule. This rule is responsible for more fat kids than anything else, IMHO.

    1. Yes, it is there, but Calyr, I totally agree. I was brought up with that “starving children in *pick your third world nation*” mantra. I feel guilty if I go to a buffet and take a portion of something and leave some on my plate because I do not like it and have the option to go back for something I like better, etc. I feel like I am wasting food if I leave half a dessert because my stomach feels full, or eat only the filling out of a flour tortilla taco because I cannot eat gluten (health concerns, not a weightloss thing). The idea of eating whatever I have served for myself definitely has led to some weight issues for me – both too much and too little at various points of my life. An unhealthy relationship with food can be started in many ways, but being punished for not eating enough is a big one. (and before anyone says anything, my parents were not monsters or even bad parents – they were both raised in large families where not having enough was common … so of course, cleaning your plate was what they grew up with.)

  12. How do I get my 11 month old off puree? I make all his food and he eats a wide variety of fruits and veggies,lentils, beans, chicken and beef BUT it all has to be pureed! He makes no attempt to feed himself and just plays with the food but does not put it in his mouth. Developmentally he is ahead of the game. He started walking at 10 months, he says “mama”, “papa”, “si” if asked a question that requires a response(si=spanish for yes)”ba ba”=bye bye. He waves and claps, etc…My husband’s grandmother says it took his dad close to 18 months to start feeding himself so maybe it’s a genetic trait but I am not willing to deprive him of essential nutrition if he wont feed himself or accept thicker textures.

      1. Is he still nursing? Have you heard of baby led weaning? If he is you should look it up…. Basically he’ll be getting enough nutrition from your milk so food is for fun until they have the tools to do it themselves. Fingering and playing with the food is part of learning to self feed. It’s only frustrating when solids is their main nutrition. Then I guess give some bites of purée and still give chunks for him to practice with?

  13. Anytime my now 8 year old daughter showed signs of refusing healthy foods or picky tendencies, I reevaluated the control she had over other aspects of her little life. Kiddos don’t have much say in their day to day lives so many resort to controlling what goes in their bodies and what comes out. If I made a conscious effort to give her plenty of choices in other areas, such as ‘Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the yellow shirt today?’, ‘Should we walk to the park or the library?’, ‘Would you like to read this book or that one?’ etc, the resistance at mealtimes seemed to dissipate quickly.
    Although this is based on purely anecdotal evidence, it seems to me that the older pickiest eaters I know have picky parents and the older children with the broadest, most adventurous palates grew up watching their parents eat an interesting variety of foods. I know it is unlikely my 8 year old will try oysters on the half shell or sweet breads, I know that seeing our enjoyment as we experiment in the kitchen and try the latest restaurant will sculpt her ideas about food as she grows up.

  14. ..My daughter was fussy and generally low-appetite all during her early years. I always felt it was wrong – for the child AND for the sitter – to dump a hungry kid off at day care. I often fed her too much of the wrong things just to make things run more smoothly.

  15. Kristina Crowder

    I think another good thing to do is involve your child in the preparation of food. That way they learn how to create healthy meals. I let my daughter gather ingredients, mix them together, and stir them when they are in the pot. And sometimes when I’m cooking, she just wants to experiment by making “soup” out of various ingredients. I have to grit my teeth against her using things like flour, sugar, and olive oil for what seems to be a waste…but I know it’s good for her to experiment.

  16. What a fantastic post. This clears up a huge mystery for me. Our older child (3) has recently stopped eating his meals after just a few bites, but he downs a huge glass of milk as soon as we sit down to the table. He’s too full to eat! I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out, but thank you!!!

  17. This is a very common question. If you make your child eat more food in order to get dessert, than he/she is not learning to listen to feelings of hunger and fullness. So we suggest not tying dessert to how they eat at mealtime. It’s like going to a party when you are not really hungry. You might just want a little of something sweet instead of eating food. Sometimes the problem is there is nothing at the table kids like, so it’s a good idea to have 1-2 items you know they’ll accept. Another thing to do is to watch the afternoon snacking which can decrease hunger at dinnertime. And you might want to try serving the dessert with dinner in a small portion, which is what feeding expert Ellyn Satter recommends. This makes it less of a big deal. I address this question in more detail it this post

  18. I have 6 and 9 year old girls and have been all over the map with trying to feed them well and engage them in the whole process. My big question is this about dessert. We do not eat desserts every night, but what to do when we do and a child has not eaten well at dinner? Do they get to have a serving of dessert or no. My husband insists that it is ridiculous to allow a child not to eat the meal and then get dessert. He maintains that could start a pattern of foregoing supper and just eating dessert (and I can see his point especially with my 9 year old). Any feedback on this?

  19. We’ve tried the Ellyn Satter Division of Responsibility with our oldest who is our picky eater. Turned into him refusing to eat at all. What else can you do with a picky eater when that fails?

    He’s been evaluated by an OT who said there may be underlying issues but as she is a school OT and it doesn’t effect schooling she can’t help and insurance won’t cover (nor can we afford) a private one.

    1. Jess,
      In Fearless Feeding we have a special chapter on addressing special nutrition challenges, such as the persistent picky eater, among others like overweight, eating disorders, ADHD. For the extremely picky eater, we have a chart full of information you can use and resources for more help–things like the learning plate, food chaining, and more. It will most definitely get you started and lead you to more specialized resources.

  20. I think it’s important to point out that breast milk is not iron deficient as Maryann’s response seems to imply. It is perfect the way it is. When babies start needing additional iron ( around 6 months), it means they should be offered additional foods. One idea is finely mashing or grinding soft cooked meats and mixing in with a vegetable. Also, offering foods high in vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron.
    I just wish medical professionals would be more careful in the way they word recommendations…it can sound like breast milk is missing something, when it really isn’t the milk that’s lacking. There just comes a time when children need more than milk.

    1. We totally agree Cori, and I tried to point that out in my response above. Breast milk is ideal (all infant formulas are mimicked after it!), it’s just as you say–there comes a time when it doesn’t match the needs of the infant as a stand-alone source of nutrition (6 months) due to the infant’s acceleration in growth. Thanks for your comment!

  21. I find this site and resources extremely helpful. I am not yet a mother, not even close – about a year away from trying for baby. But, I am extremely concerned about raising my future children with healthy attitudes toward food. I do not have a healthy relationship with food – I have trouble getting away from “good” vs. “bad” foods, I reward myself with food, food makes me happy and as a result, I sometimes eat just to feel good (even though the food choices do not meet any nutritional goals or needs, or the food is complete garbage with a long list of unpronounceable ingredients).

    I do not want to pass my food issues onto my children and I don’t know how to start or what to do to ensure I can raise them to be the healthiest little people they can be. I’m afraid I’ll either be the mom who won’t let my children eat anything, is extremely restrictive, and scares them away from food (along with giving them body image complexes) or the mom who is so overly relaxed with food that my children eat too much of everything and end up overweight and self-control issues. Do you have suggestions of where I can start (books to read, blogs to follow, etc.) to help me get on the right track for when my little ones come into the world?

    1. Jennifer,

      Some of our favorite books for learning how to have a healthy relationship with food as an adult include Intuitive Eating and Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. Michelle May, author of the second book, has a blog that might be helpful

      In Fearless Feeding we have a chapter called the Parent Trap, which helps parents reflect on their own eating habits and develop a positive approach.

      If you feel you need more support, you can see an RD who specializes in intuitive eating. There is a training program available for dietitians.

      I think it’s great you are thinking of this now. Good luck to you!

    2. Jennifer,
      Just to add to Maryann’s comment–the fact that you recognize that you have ups and downs with eating (we all do! Sometimes we eat for pleasure, period…and that’s ok!) tells me you are way ahead of the game! We include a lot of dialogue examples for talking with school age kids and teenagers about body image and healthy eating in the book. Many parents need help with what to say and how to say it, as they are concerned with hurting or harming their child’s outlook on nutrition and body image. There is a fine balance around teaching about food, what you say/don’t say, and a child’s perceptions about nutrition. We discuss this extensively, as we know that children’s cognitive abilities evolve, making some nutrition concepts tough for younger ones to understand and almost boring for older ones! Tailoring the conversation to be productive and helpful is the goal and we help you understand what to say and how to say it based on child’s age.

    3. I wasn’t quite in the same boat, but similar. When my first child started eating solids I cringed at the idea of him eating sugary and overly processed foods – even though my own diet was full of them. I fed him super well and was actually criticized for not letting him indulge in the sweets some tried to offer . But I told them, and stuck to it, that I was going to try to eat better, and as his little body got older and more able to handle the junk I would ease up, so we would meet somewhere in the middle. And that is exactly what we have done. Now I eat way more fruits and veggies than I used to and can’t stand the thought of eating a candy bar or other heavily processed food, and my son gets to enjoy a piece of candy or a cookie often enough. As suggested, read up on the topic. Books by Ellyn Satter are also helpful. Work on understanding what is healthy, and you’ll be just fine with your children. Remember, babies start out slowly with just milk and you both will learn together as she/he needs more.

  22. Am I the only one with babies who eat nothing? My 18 month olds will not eat anything except yogurt and the occasional slice of cheese or watermelon. I put all kinds of things in front of them, they sit at the table with us at all meal times, but in the end they are perfectly happy to not eat any solids at all if I don’t offer what they want, and just make do with the boob. Which, at their age, is really really hard to keep up with and I am getting to that point where I want to wean them. Neither of them ever ate purees or cereals at all; I couldn’t get a bite of solid food down their throats until age 10 months or so, and then it was yogurt. They are growing really well so I know I am meeting their nutritional needs but it is frustrating. They seem to have zero interest in food and just toss everything off their trays without a glance. And it’s been almost a year of that. If this is the most open to new foods they will ever be, then I am in real trouble :(

    1. While some children start to be picky by 18 months, if your children never transitioned to table foods than that might indicate an underlying issue. They are also at risk for iron deficiency as it seems they aren’t getting any sources of iron (breast milk is low in iron). Here are some red flags for feeding to be aware of Maybe a referral to a pediatric RD can be a good starting point? Jill might have other suggestions.

    2. Annika,
      I agree with Maryann, you may want to get plugged into a pediatric RD to make sure nutrients are being met such as iron, zinc, vitamin D. While breast milk is ideal for the first year as a solitary source of nutrition, as baby gets older, complementary foods such as fortified cereals, meats and fruits/veggies are needed to add in the nutrients that become lower in breast milk. A pediatric RD can look at nutrition from the food source standpoint, but can also look into your feeding style/structure and interaction to help you move the kiddos along. She/he can also help you determine if you need a specialist in feeding therapy or identify any underlying issues.

    3. You are not alone. My 18 month old is way more decisive about which foods he will and will not eat than his brother was. It really helps that we eat family meals, as he is very imitative of his older brother. Your twins are imitative of each other, compounding the issue. Hope the below advice is helpful. I also nurse my toddler, and the last point may be helpful to you regarding that.

      You can try a couple of things,
      1: plate one food at a time – remove and replace the food before they toss the food around. This may help keep their interest in eating and to focus on the food rather than playing.
      2: offer a new food with familiar food. My oldest would only eat a new food if most everything else on the table was familiar. My cousin at 18 mo would eat a larger variety, as long as it was dipped in yogurt first. He eats fine now at 4 yrs old. Offer a dipping cup filled with yogurt so they can dip any food they want into it – they might try new things that way.
      3: Make food fun. My 18 month old loves food on a stick. Peas on a toothpick are gobbled even when he hadn’t touched them during the entire meal. He gobbled strawberries and blueberries on a skewer even though he usually spits them out. He loves corn on the cob – if there are corn holders attached (which do get played with, but the corn also gets eaten). He also usually prefers a whole piece of food vs cut up. This does often lead to waste, but I’ve cut his pancake, and he will not eat it, so I place a whole one on is plate and he grabs it and gobbles. So find out what your kiddos like and go from there (maybe food cut into shapes, or a certain color).
      4: Ignore them – sort of. If find many times my husband and I will be enjoying conversation – and food- and not be paying much attention to the children. When we do look, we see they have usually eaten a fair amount. Not always the case, and more than once we have looked at the kids because they have tossed their food or spilled their drink, but still seems to help to not be always pressuring them to eat or act a certain way.
      5: Try, Try, Try again. It literally took 5 or so progressive exposures before my oldest would try a new food. So keep serving it on the table so it becomes more and more familiar.
      6: Expect them to sit and stay at the table until finished, and when finished expect them to not come back to the table. At first this will be hard, but they will catch on and they will usually eat enough before they leave the table. This rule helps so much when eating out (restaurant, picnic, etc) it will still depend a lot on your child’s personality, but with this expectation they will eat a decent amount before they subcome the distraction of the new environment.
      6: I also continue to breastfeed (weaned my oldest at 2.5yrs). I do too sometimes wonder if my toddler is just waiting to nurse instead of eat. But 1 – this isn’t a horrible thing as long as he eats enough solids (I personally judge this by his bowl movements. If they look solid “normal” he is eating enough, if they are runny and “breastfeddy” then he is not eating enough solids and getting a disproportionate amount of milk). 2. You can start to wean breastfeeding to set times of day. I went back to work when my first was 18 months old, and I nursed him upon waking, when I got home from work in the evenings, and at bedtime. During the weekend I simply told him when he asked to nurse “wait until after dinner” or whenever the next nursing time was. I’m doing similar with my current 18 mo old, although since I stay home now I give in a little to other times. If you need help weaning your 18 month olds (totally or to only a few feeding a day) consider reading “Mothering your nursing toddler” by Norma J. Bumgarner.

    4. One more thought, move them from the high chair to a chari at the table in a booster seat. This will be messy at first (I have placemat under the plate, and sheet of plastic on the floor under the chair), and you might be working more on toddler manners than eating, but the more they are able to eat like you the more likely they will eat better. Also, give them real silverware and real plates, just like mom and dad. Do buckle them into their booster seats, it will be the norm if you alwasy do it, and it will help keep them in place until you can clean off their hands :-) Just be sure to ease into the changes – changing everything at once will probably be disastrous.

  23. Another great post! I have adhered to the rule of offering them healthy choices, then leaving it up to them to decide whether they eat or not. After 2 years, it’s starting to pay off! It’s so worth it and I am so glad I did it!

  24. My daughter is 13 months old and has had severe gastric reflux accompanied by Sandifer’s Syndrome since she was 8 weeks old. She already has a mouthful of teeth, and we’ve been trying to introduce solid chunks since about 8 months, but are still using pureed jar food and stage 3 chunky food for the most part, because she has such trouble swallowing. The poor dear loves the taste and texture of solid foods, and seems to enjoy when I give her not pureed but still microscopic chunks of scrambled egg, banana, bread, cheese, watermelon, avocado, meatball, pasta and the like, but inevitably she gets to a point, makes a gagging noise, and up comes everything. We try giving her tiny tiny bites, we try giving her the bottle in between bites, but she always throws up her entire stomach just to clear out the food that gets caught. The versions of the foods pureed are not a problem for her, so we’ve ruled out food allergies, and she doesn’t seem to dislike anything we’ve given her. If anyone has good suggestions on how to teach her how to swallow, it would make this stay at home dad’s life a lot easier.

    1. Greg,
      I used to work in pedi GI and it sounds like your child’s reflux may not be well-controlled. I would get a swallow study to evaluate the proper consistency of food and next steps to be working toward.

    2. Greg-
      Your daughter sounds a lot like my son. He had severe reflux-had to be on meds till 3. But, the throwing up entire contents of the stomach was a different issue. Through an evaluation with a feeding specialist as part of his GI examination it was found that he was not chewing and did not know how to chew. So, no matter how small the piece of food we gave him, he would vomit it all up. He had speech therapy to learn to chew. I never knew not being able to chew was possible. I would see if you can get an evaluation with a feeding specialist. Best of luck to you!

  25. I know it’s best when the family eats together since kids learn by watching, but our 2 year old eats around 5:30 (for a 7:15-7:30 bedtime) and on the days I work I’m not home till 6:45pm. Should I just have him and daddy eat dinner together and then I eat on my own when I’m home? Any suggestions are appreciated!
    And could someone clarify point four for me? Does that mean that if he refuses his veggies right away that I should let him eat other things made for dinner?

    1. Just a couple of thoughts on your questions, one is that children learn from observation as much as from doing so eating with just one adult is just fine, the idea is for them to eat alongside someone who provides a good example of healthy eating. The second thought I had is regarding point 4, you the parent set out a good selection of healthy foods at regular times and the child decides which of those to eat and how much. The idea is that the child gets to choose how to fill his/her belly and the parent gets to choose the diet. HTH! :)

    2. Bridget – I’m sure there are many ways to do this, but this is what works for us. Due to varying work schedules, I am usually not home when my kids eat breakfast and my husband is often not home when they have dinner. We try to plan so that he can sit with them and drink his coffee while they eat breakfast and I will either have a small snack with them during dinner, or at least sit at the table with them. When we have more flexibility, like weekends and the summer (I am a teacher) we try to do as many family meals together as we can, and I usually have lunch with them in the summer. We usually get in anywhere from 4-8 full family meals during the week and do the best we can with the other ones. I try to focus on having my kids understand that they should sit at the table for meals, and follow acceptable behavior (request food politely, chew with mouth closed, ask to be excused, etc.)
      I think point 4 is also open to interpretation. In our house, we never force the kids to eat what is served, but we also don’t provide extra options. I try to make sure they always have at least one item they really like and then vary the others. That means sometimes they leave the table having barely eaten anything, but 9 times out of 10, they then eat a lot for the next meal, so I never really worry about it.

    3. Bridget,

      there are a lot of ways families can eat together. If dinner is tough there is breakfast and weekends. But one thing that we suggest in the book is to make one meal an save the rest for those who come later. For older kids, this might be the child who has sports practice. Save a plate and have one parent eat with him. If it’s the parents that are late, one can make the dinner and eat with the child and save a plate for the late one. Just an idea.

      I agree with Amanda. Serve the food and allow your child to eat from the selection. If you make them eat veggies first they can turn into a negative and then the battles come. Research shows 70% of young children taste bitter compounds in veggies so it can take time for them to accept them. Raw usually works better than cooked and roasted veggies are sweeter and can work well. HTH

    4. Bridget,

      Studies show that even one parent present during meal time constitutes family meals…that being said, even if you feed your little one early, I would still pull him up to the table when you and hubby eat. He doesn’t have to eat food, but can certainly join in the camaraderie of the meal and being together. It’s not about the food he eats, but the socialization of being together that has the most power.

  26. Since by 8 months they’re developmentally able to have small pieces of food, and since they don’t really need anything but milk until a year, we skipped purees and just started at 8 months with tiny bits of the same food we ate. Skip the purees and eliminate #1!

    I’m still failing on the not planning meals thing though… sigh.

    1. The potential issue with starting solids late is it might increase the risk of food allergy according to new studies. Babies who are breastfed are at risk for iron deficiency as needs climb at 6 months so it is important for babies to have a source of iron during this time (about 15% of children under two are deficient). We spell all this out in the book so parents can make decision for them

  27. Aside from what parents offer and don’t offer, or some just giving up too quickly and offering junk/fast food so kids will eat something vs. nothing at all….I wonder how much of kids’ picky tendencies come from the purees? I did baby led solids (known to many as baby-led weaning). My son never did purees. We kept a bottle for “emergencies” and he wouldn’t touch it. He’s had real, whole food from the get-go and there is only ONE thing he won’t eat because he prefers raw. I have always offered real food and variety. He pretty much eats anything put in front of him. I know some is personality, some is just a great appetite, but I will always wonder how things may have turned out had I gone the puree route. Sometimes I think how painfully obvious it is as to why many kids (sensory disorders and the like aside) have texture issues — the purees mess up the initial experience with a food and it is so hard to get corrected with the “real” version later on. Not to mention so many parents are instructed to supplement with rice cereal so early on before babies’ guts are ready, and all that is is empty calories. Processed food from the very beginning, IMO!

    1. I’m glad solid foods worked for you. Unfortunately, my first 2 girls didn’t get their first tooth until 22 months and 20 months respectively, So they couldn’t chew solid foods. Now people say babies can just gum stuff, but I disagree. I wash cloth diapers and see chunks of whole undigested foods that come out in the their poop. I stuck with puree’s longer because I knew it was a safe way to actually get nutrients in their bodies without them choking. (I still steam carrots for my 2 year old) My youngest, on the other hand, got her first tooth around age 1 and now at age 2 has 12! She started solids MUCH sooner and just the other night was munching away on corn on the cob! we also have ti remind her to stop when she get’s to the rind on a piece of melon. Crazy how different kids can be.

      I prefer to leave junk food at the store as well and stick to homemade dessert/treats on weekends. I also try to replicate store bought desserts to make them healthier, homemade ice cream sandwiches, granola bars, graham crackers, popsicles, etc. Thankfully my oldest will sometimes turn down store bought treats offered outside of the home because she finds them disgusting, go-gurt, chocolate milk, gushers, etc. I also let my girls pick out “healthy” treats from the grocery store/farmer’s market. This week my oldest tried a yellow mango sample from the grocery store and asked if we could get one. Since I mostly shop the perimeter, my girls rarely see the junk food.

    2. Chris,

      There is no research to show that purees make a child pickier. But it is important for parents to challenge children with texture and encourage self feeding. In Fearless Feeding we help parents learn how to meet their baby’s nutritional needs while considering the taste and texture of what’s offered. While I think baby led weaning can work well for some children, studies show that some babies are late to feed and if they aren’t allowed pureed would be missing out on nutrition during a critical time.

      So we suggest new parents offer some puree but not sweat if child doesn’t go for it but also look for signs they can self feed. We include lots of case studies in the book!

    3. there is also little research on baby-led weaning, so it’s really based on the child and their developmental stage. what works for one baby, may not work for the next. The biggest issue I see is the risk for nutrient deficiencies, such as iron and zinc, if baby isn’t getting adequate amounts of these food sources. That being said, many babies aren’t starting solids until 6+ months and their interest and ability to move forward with texture quickly is apparent, making the introduction of safe solid foods appropriate. The puree stage can be short-lived for many babies–my own four children were only on puree foods for 2-3 months! So many foods can be quick-mashed or fine-chopped for baby!

  28. Some great advice here. I taught special needs kids and I never understood..”they won’t eat anything but McDonalds”. Hmmm, at no point when our daughter did not want what was offered did it occur to us to way well hey, let’s run out and get some fast food.
    Also menu planning is key I tried to sit down with the grocery flyer and plan meals for what was on sale, what I had in the pantry and juggle them around our weeks activities. If more families got up close and personal with their crock pots they might be quite surprised!!
    thanks for the post!

  29. GREAT guest post! I agree with every one of them. Another good reminder to parents is that, for toddlers and preschoolers, a serving of fruits and veggies is just one tbsp per year of age. When I share this when speaking to mom groups, you can almost hear an audible sigh of relief.

  30. Marie, I highly recommend you check out Ellyn Satter’s information (she is mentioned in the above post) regarding the division of responsibility. Knowing what you can and can’t control really helps to alleviate some of the stress of worrying about how much our children are eating. I am a child mental health professional and I have recommended this information to many parents. I wish I had known it when my own children were little!

  31. I need some serious help! My daughter is almost 6 and has a small range of fooda she will eat. I know I messed that up myself when she was younger and suddenly started to not like food. I didn’t know any better! We are cutting out unhealthy foods, im making everything myself, and store bought items have limited ingredients or at least I know what it is. My daughter drives me crazy! She doesnt like pancake or waffle! I made whole wheat strawberry pancakes b/c she likes strawberries. Didn’t like them. I added powdered sugar (I know bot healthy but I was trying!) Still didn’t like them. Sometimes she will eat the Annie’s Mac and cheese and then other times say she doesnt like it?! What I’ve recently changed to, the kids can only eat 3 meals with 2 snacks. I try to choose healthy meals that include veggies and/or fruit. And sometimes they will go w/o eating! My youngest I’m not too worried about since she eats regulary and when she doeant eat, will at the next meal time. I feel that my other 2 kids aren’t eating enough and bit enough variety!

    1. The best thing you can do is to be consistent. Keep offering a variety of healthy foods on the schedule you have set up. It is very rare that a child will starve themselves. As long as they don’t have another source of getting the foods they are holding out for, they will eventually eat what you are offering and discover what they like. When you can, let them have some choice in the menu items. I had one that would only eat broccoli on days she had preschool. It had nothing to do with disliking the food, she just wanted some control. Once I agreed to that ‘rule’, she would eat both the broccoli on school days and other veggies the rest of the week willingly.

    2. I know people are going to start yelling at me over this one but what my mom did when my younger brother got fussy with his food (he was about 6 or 7) was she simply didn’t give in. If he didn’t like what she cooked he didn’t eat she refused to cater to his whims and between meals our kitchen was closed. After a couple missed meals and growling tummies he figured out that he had lost the battle and had to sit down and at least try bites of everything on the table. After a few very long weeks (according to my mom) he started eating everything offered to him and now at 24 he cooks, eats healthy, tries everything offered to him and has no ill feelings towards mom (I asked). Never forget in the end you are the boss and you must do what is best for them. A few missed meals won’t harm her (as long as she’s hydrated, and healthy to begin with) and in the end you’ll have a healthier child.

      1. I don’t think your mother’s approach was harsh. I do the same thing with my kids: I control what, when and where and they decide if they are going to eat. Sometimes they choose not to and that is fine, but they aren’t getting anything else. I’m not a short order cook and I’m not running a restaurant. I make the healthiest, tastiest meals I can manage with my schedule, taking into account everyone’s preferences when possible, and that has to be good enough. They’ve asked for different foods and they’ve gone to bed hungry. It won’t kill them.

      2. I completely agree with Sandra and Zoe. I do the same thing with my own kids, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. They usually know how to make great food choices on their own, but they know I’m not going to make them separate meals or “exempt” them from eating vegetables or serve them a special meal before or after our family eats, either. I get so annoyed when I hear people say stuff like, “My son will only eat white pasta.” Well, if your kid is 3 years old (or even older), and he’s only eating white pasta, it’s because some ADULT is caving in an only serving him white pasta. Bravo for letting kids get a little hungry once in a while. You’re right – after a couple skipped meals, they’ll come around. Few (if any) kids will starve themselves or get to the point of doing themselves harm just because they refuse to eat. As adults, I think we spend too much time over-analyzing kids’ eating habits and coming up with new, creative ways to get them to eat. I’m sure kids in countries where food is relatively scarce are not picky eaters because they have no option but to eat what is served.

    3. Marie,

      Try not to be too hard on yourself…these things take time. In Fearless Feeding we help you with all the specifics such as timing of, meeting nutrition needs and how to serve items. It helps if you have 1-2 things at each meal you know she is likely to eat. Also, involve her in the meal planning so she feels involved

      While serving only food that the adults want can work with certain children, you want to consider the whole family when cooking meals. For example, some kids have trouble chewing meat and are more sensitive to bitter tasting vegetables. So you want to consider your children without catering to them. I discuss that here

      Good luck!

      1. Great advice. I love how you put it to “not cater but consider their needs.” I encourage the families I work with to try to find recipes that allow for easy accommodations for everyone-especially if serving buffet style. So, a good example would be tacos…you put out all of the fixings and each individual adds what they like. Another would be a “spaghetti bar/noodle bar.”

    4. The other thing we discuss in Fearless Feeding is approaching feeding with a strategy for the whole family–this eliminates catering and gets everyone on the same plan. It sounds like you’ve already started with 3 meals/2 snacks. Next, you’ll want to plan out the menu, considering your whole families preferences and set it. Often, this is when parents weaken, and feel guilty if their child won’t eat what they chose to prepare…and end up caving in to their child’s preferences. For some children, this can shift the balance of the parent-child relationship from the parent to the child, where the child has more say in what is being served and eaten than the parent. As you can imagine, this can be a set up for more struggle around food and eating in the future. For the most part, children will follow the lead of the parent, and we show you, step-by-step, how to do this!

    5. One of the things I’ve found helpful with picky eaters is trying to include them in meal planning and preparation. For example, my older two kids each get to choose a meal every week, as long as it is balanced (including some sort of protein and fruit and/or veggie). They’ve actually gotten really good at it! Even if my son only goes between asking for asparagus and broccoli as his veggie, and my daughter slices the tomatoes too big for the salad, they are learning. It felt like it was a real battle for a long time, but once we implemented this system, it helped. Also, we do have the “no thank you bite” rule in our house. If you don’t want to eat it because it looks strange or smells different, that’s fine, but you need to at least try it before you say “no thank you!”

  32. On banning foods:

    I do not tell my kids they can’t have something that is offered, but I do tell my kids that I won’t buy certain junk for our home.

    Would this be considered banning food?

    For example, my daughter asked for fruit roll-ups and pop-tarts at the store and I told her I wasn’t buying those items. However, when she goes to my MIL’s house and is offered those items I don’t throw a fit about it.

    1. I do the same thing; I don’t buy junk!! I have noticed that when my kids are in a place that has junk, they tend to overindulge. :( I try talking about portion control and explaining what chemicals and poor ingredients are in certain foods, but they still REALLY like their junk. :( I did overhear my 8 year old turn down a chocolate milk because “there’s carrgeenan in it”! :)

      1. I was raised with a house ban on many foods children love. I’m not sure if it was good or bad. I did overindulge on sweets and overprocessed foods when I could. But after a few years of living on my own I understood all the things my mother had tried to teach me and came back around to home cooking and healthy food choices. I do still indulge here and there. Maybe a ban is right when the child knows why that ban is in place?

    2. I do the same thing – and it was pretty much the same in my house growing up. Through my adolescence I did have a hard time restraining myself when it came to junk when I was out and about, but I grew out of it and by university was pretty self controlled at the cafeteria. Now I notice the same pattern in my children (snack time at playgroup can be downright embarrassing when my kids are seemingly NEVER satisfied!), but my hope is that they will follow my pattern and grow out of it by adulthood.

    3. I do it similarly; I don’t buy things we shouldn’t eat but I don’t flip out about it when it’s offered outside our home. And we keep an open dialogue about why certain foods aren’t good for us. My oldest (6) recognizes that she doesn’t feel well after overindulging at a party or restaurant.

    4. I act similarly but I also talk about WHY I’m not buying those things. We have a lot of conversations about nutrition and exercise in our house, and my girls are only five. I think more than it being a banned food, they need to understand why it’s not coming into your house so they get the full picture.

      Similarly if my kids are hungry but ask for candy, we talk instead about eating real food for a snack.

    5. Banning foods really means categories of food–all sweets, all fried, etc. WHen a “no” is set for sweets, for example, children may be more focused on them when parents aren’t around, and overeat them. Setting boundaries around what foods are acceptable in your child’s diet is the parent’s job–yet, children will be exposed to many “forbidden” foods when they enter the world of school and community. Absolutely explain why your family stocks certain foods and not others, as this is a teachable moment and an opportunity to let your child understand your family values. Remember, the long term goal is to instill healthy food values in your child over time…and this takes time! If your home is a health haven for the most part, you can relax a bit about outside exposure to less than healthy foods, and/or help those environments get healthier, as we describe in the book.

      1. I agree and as a former teacher I would encourage parents to have their children learn where the ingredient list is for any food they want to buy and then ask them to look at the label and discuss if it ” passes the test” with food ingredients that are actually food and not chemicals and let them learn to be their own judge. Like,” Mom I wanted to get those fruit roll-ups, but I looked at the label and it says it has high fructose corn syrup and red dye, so I know we’re not buying it and I don’t want to eat chemicals “. It’s highly unlikely that the conversation or their sentence will sound like that, but in my experience if kids are active in the decision making, rather than just hearing yes or no they will surprise you with their ability to say no. It’s also important like another post mentioned to tell why we don’t want to eat things like chemicals or the like, i.e. it hurts tummies, makes us sick, etc. Just my 2 cents. But it’s certainly not easy when messages are flying at them to eat the junk and not think first-much like our America has become. Biggest thing to teach them is to think for themselves!

    6. Sugar is “banned” in our house due to my son being mildly autistic and unable to digest it properly. He is 8, my daughter is 6 and we just discovered this intolerance a few months ago. It has been a real struggle trying to make this change. As soon as they are out of our sight and offered candy, they inhale it. But just 1 small piece of candy makes him outrageously hyper, so we know. I bake a lot of sugar free treats at home and bring them along with us to birthday parties so they don’t feel left out. I avoid processed stuff, but I will pick up some pre-packaged sugar free treats to leave with their teachers when the school year starts so if there are classroom parties they aren’t left out.

      My daughter is allergic to citrus and we are trying to treat my son’s sugar intolerance the same way, but no one ever looks at me like an evil mother for not letting my child have an orange. The looks I get for telling someone, “please don’t give my son a cookie” are bone chilling sometimes.

      1. Beth,

        We have resources in our book for helping with kids on the spectrum–and, as you know, each one has their own set of individual nutrition sensitivities and challenges! Have you checked out Judy Converse’s books on nutrition and autism? I think they are very good and well-researched with loads of practical tips. Also, Elizabeth Strickland is a good resource for your son’s challenges as well.

        When the spectrum is involved, general recommendations for children may not work well. Many parents I have worked with have had to find their own path with nutrition, working with their child’s challenges while keeping things positive and finding substitutions as able. But, I also know from professional experience that the feeding relationship can get off track with these challenges…because they are so challenging for everyone involved! Keep up the good work!!