Just to switch things up a little bit this week, instead of writing about a specific topic, I’m sharing with you the answers to those nitty gritty feeding questions you may have been meaning to ask, but haven’t! These are actual examples of questions I’ve received through Instagram, and they may seem very specific, but I can almost guarantee that others have thought this – or something similar – and just haven’t asked it. So, let’s get you those answers you’ve been searching for!
A: So first of all, I want to address the lengths of mealtimes at this age. At 7 months old, babies are not necessarily going to have mealtimes that always last 20-30 minutes. A lot of babies can only last 5-10 minutes before they start to get tired or full (it’s a lot of work keeping themselves in an upright position and focusing on eating for that long, and they may be able to pack enough calories in, in a shorter amount of time, to fill them up). So, if your baby is happy and participating in the meal, seems to have interest in the food, is eating or approaching the food, etc. during those first 5-10 minutes, it is possible that they’re tired or full after that, and mealtime just needs to be over.
Now, if they don’t seem too interested in eating at all during that time frame, and then they get fussy after 5-10 minutes, they may have already come to the table full. It can be normal for babies to have no appetite for some meals, but if it happens regularly, you can try pushing back their mealtime to a later time, and providing a longer gap between their milk feed and solids. Some babies need up to 1.5 hours in-between a milk feed and solids to develop enough hunger to show interest in eating.
Finally, if you’ve gone through that list, and still feel like something isn’t working, take a look at their high chair – they may just be uncomfortable in their chair after a while! If it isn’t set up in the proper seating position – in an upright position, so they’re at a 90 degree angle at the hips – adjust that. If needed, you can place a towel or blanket, folded up, behind their back to provide enough support if your highchair doesn’t allow them to come up to that angle. They also need a footrest! A lot of high chairs don’t come with them, so you may need to get creative, but their feet need to be supported while eating for proper stability. It helps take some pressure off of their core muscles so they can remain seated upright for longer. Check out my ultimate high chair buying guide for some ideas on how to creatively make your own footrest, if your high chair doesn’t have one!
A: So, let’s first address how this toddler is calling the sauces “dirty”. Most likely this toddler just doesn’t know how to express what they’re trying to say, and this is their way of communicating that they don’t like something. Which is okay – let’s help them find the right words to describe it! So when they say “It’s dirty”, you say “Oh, you mean it’s saucy” or “Oh okay, are you talking about the butter on top?” or whatever it is that’s being used as a sauce, that you believe is causing them to make these comments. Then, you can assure them that it’s okay if they don’t like that, you understand, and they don’t have to eat it.
Next, address the issue of them not eating it. There really isn’t anything else you can do apart from repeated exposures. Continue to offer it, but what you can do is include the sauce on the side for them (when possible). This way they can begin to explore it separately, and choose to dip into it when they’re ready. If it isn’t possible to remove the sauce, for example if you cook some meat marinated in a sauce, I would offer them the meat with the sauce on it. Then allow them to decide whether they want any on their plate, if they want to try to scrape some of the sauce off themselves before eating, or if they want to just pass on it that night. You offer, and they choose if they eat it – the division of responsibility at work!
Finally, I want to note that a lot of toddlers don’t enjoy mixing textures – for example, soft with crunchy. So this could be about the texture of the sauce, and not enjoying that being on top of whatever else is being served. Food exploration and food play are really going to help here. Try some activities away from mealtimes to help get them used to that saucy type of texture. One example would be to paint with yogurt. Take some yogurt, use food colouring to make different colours, and let them fingerpaint with it!
A: This may be an unpopular opinion…. But there’s no magical amount of food that will help your child sleep through the night. As long as they’ve been offered a balanced dinner, allowed to eat what they needed, and maybe offered a bedtime snack, if bedtime is more than 2 hours after dinner – this is not a food issue. It’s a sleep issue. I’d recommend speaking with a pediatric sleep consultant, Little Z’s Sleep is amazing, and she has a toddler course that may be a good fit!
A: It’s common for toddlers to refuse dinner and opt to have a bedtime snack later on. Usually it’s because the bedtime snack is a lot more appealing than the food offered at dinnertime! That’s why I always say that bedtime snacks should be filling but not thrilling 🙂 That being said, it’s all about having schedules, schedules, schedules. Meals and snacks are offered at certain times, decided by you, not them, and if you don’t regularly offer a bedtime snack, then dinner is their last opportunity to eat until morning. It’s 100% okay to have those types of boundaries – in fact, it’s crucial! They have to learn that the kitchen isn’t always open (I even recommend putting up a sign that says: “The kitchen is closed”, in-between meal and snack times). They can’t snack on demand, as this can lead to mindless eating, or eating for reasons other than true hunger. After a few nights of showing them the boundaries, they’ll catch on, and begin making sure their tummy is full at dinner.
If you’re looking for some scripts on how to address these types of situations, and other toddler behaviours, my Feeding Toddlers course has them all! I share lots of scenarios and provide you with what to say when they come up – always showing empathy first, and redirecting or reminding them of the rules, after. Check it out!
I also want to note that if they’re refusing to stay for dinner – that’s fine. We need to have reasonable expectations for how long toddlers can stay at the table, and aim for 10 minutes to start. Just remember to let them know, before they get down from the table, that once they get down, dinnertime is all done, and the kitchen will be closed until morning. If they’re okay with this, then they don’t need to stay at the table. It’s hard for them to sit for long periods of time (you can continually work on increasing it as it becomes easier for them), just be sure you follow through and don’t provide a snack when they ask for one before bed!
A: Unpopular opinion, maybe, but generally the answer is nope! It’s the worst when they’re sick and we just want to do anything to help them feel better, I get it. While maybe doing it once or twice max isn’t the end of the world, anymore than that isn’t helping them, or you, in the long run. Once they’re feeling better, battles will begin about who gets to decide what is being served/offered at any given meal or snack, if you do this. Your toddler probably won’t understand that their ability to choose is now over, or they may even say that they aren’t feeling well to see what they can get out of it. That’s totally normal for them to do that, and honestly, it would be because you’ve created that expectation. So, while it’s tempting to make them a new or separate meal from everyone else when they’re sick, it will make things a lot harder when they’re feeling better.
However, if they really are refusing all foods due to a lowered appetite or are finding it hard to eat certain foods because of a sore throat (which is normal when sick), you can be considerate to them without fully catering to them. The way to do this is to choose, of your own accord, to offer them a food they love or a food that may be easier/better for them to eat during this time of illness, alongside other foods on the menu. There’s a big difference between this, and making them a whole new meal if they refuse the first one. So for example, it might be easier for them to eat things like smoothies, soups, applesauce, yogurt, homemade popsicles, etc. during this time. Go ahead and offer it from the beginning, alongside a couple other foods as well. You’re still choosing the menu that way, but it is being considerate of the fact that they’re sick.
Oh, and don’t forget to offer lots of hydration! Smoothies and popsicles double up to help with this too! Try this easy breakfast popsicle for your sick little one 🙂
A: Truth – my project director saw this question and said “I think that’s my question!” Before working for me, she was an avid follower, and with two little girls of her own, she definitely asked me a few questions. And we’re pretty confident this was one of them. Her oldest loved eating as a baby – like, thoroughly enjoyed mealtimes, to the point where she could sit at the table in her high chair for 60+ minutes. The biggest piece of this question was whether or not she was struggling to eat. If she had been, I would definitely have recommended a feeding evaluation, because it shouldn’t take that long to eat a meal. However, in this case, what was happening was that her baby just enjoyed the interaction and time together so much, that she didn’t want it to end. She would eat, then play with her food, at which point they’d be asking if she was all done or needed more. A lot of times she wasn’t responding, so they’d believe she was done. Then, when they went to remove her plate, she’d begin eating, and this would happen multiple times throughout those 60 minutes. Their concern was ending the meal when she was in fact still hungry.
Here’s the thing, if she had been hungry, she would have continued eating. If your baby stops to play, consistently, they’re probably done, and it’s okay to end the meal. It’s also okay to have a set time for meals, and to tell them “Okay, lunch is over, now it’s time for a nap!” That’s just moving on from one activity to the next, it’s not any form of punishment by ending the meal. Capping meals at 60 minutes max., but ideally 30-45 minutes, allows them to keep to a schedule and have enough time to build up a hunger for their next eating opportunity.
Now, this continued on for my project director for months (on and off, not consistently), until at about 1.5 – 2YO she was still experiencing stalling, and her daughter was now telling her that she wasn’t done, and was still hungry (which made her feel guilty for ending the meal). By this point, her youngest daughter had arrived and she typically napped during meals. Well, I quickly realized that, in this case, the desire was for that one-on-one attention that she got during mealtimes. She added in more one-on-one time before sitting down to eat, and voila! The battles when ending mealtimes were over.
A: YES! Totally normal for toddlers to “front-load”. Meaning they’ll typically eat a lot of their breakfast, morning snack, and lunch, and then less at afternoon snack/dinner. By the end of the day, they’re tired, as you said, and it can be just too hard to concentrate on eating at that time. Especially if dinner means new foods are being served, which often they are, and for some they’re the most “complete” meal of the day, offering all food groups. Well, this can be emotionally exhausting for toddlers; having to try to be adventurous with new foods, when they’re already tired, is asking a lot, especially for picky toddlers. So, I’m going to recommend that you try to spread those new foods out throughout the day, but also ensure that the other meals/snacks are equally as nutritious (most of the time) so that if they’re consistently eating less, or skipping dinner altogether, they’ll have at least gotten some good nutrition in, earlier in the day.
In addition, I was speaking with the co-owner of Safe Beginnings, Holly Choi, on my podcast recently, and she reminded me that one of the main feeding hazards for babies and toddlers is eating when drowsy or not fully alert. If your toddler is so exhausted and they look like they’re about to fall asleep into their plate – while it makes for an adorable picture – it’s really not safe, and that’s your sign to end the meal.
A: Such a common question! A lot of people assume that since their baby is turning 6 months old, they need to start them on solids right that day, or during that week, etc. However, since you’re only going to be gone for a week – waiting until you’re home is the safer option in these cases. It isn’t going to cause any delays or issues for your baby by choosing to wait one week, or even two weeks, to begin.
I’ve got a couple of reasons for waiting to introduce food for the first time when home. First, babies’ immune systems are weaker than ours, and when you’re travelling out of the country you can never be 100% sure of the safety of the food/water where you’re going. Since it’s easier for babies to contract an illness that can cause more serious problems, than it would be for an adult, it’s my recommendation to offer solids at home vs. when away, especially for a new eater.
Second, if your baby has an allergic reaction to a food, it’s always better to be dealing with medical emergencies at home. I wouldn’t wish for any parent to have to sort out emergency medical care for their baby while in a foreign country, trying to enjoy a vacation. Not fun.
A: It’s great that you are conscious of how you react to food in front of your little one. So, although we want to teach them to be adventurous, it’s perfectly reasonable for any of us to have certain foods we don’t like! I encourage you to be honest and say what I teach toddlers to say when they don’t like a food!
- “I don’t like this yet. I will keep trying.”
- “I’m still learning to like this food.”
- “I’d like to smell the yogurt but I’m not ready to eat it yet.”
- “I can take a lick of the yogurt without deciding to like it. I’ll just describe what I can of the taste and see if I can do more over time.”
- “I don’t feel like having yogurt now.”
A: I would 100% avoid making a new meal after your child has refused the first (helloooo catering for life and increased picky eating and demands!). Instead, build into your meal 1-2 “safe foods” – which are just foods that you can reasonably expect them to eat. They don’t have to be ultimate favourites, or the same every time. Perhaps your child has eaten it in the past month and so it’s reasonable to expect it to be eaten again. If you’re child is hungry at mealtime, he/she will have the safe food(s) to eat if they really want. If they don’t, then they likely aren’t hungry or are in a place of habit where they are just used to asking for an absolute favourite meal and getting it. Try adopting a new rule where you as the parent choose the meal (while being considerate to their preferences with a safe food), without ever catering to them. Check out my blog post on the division of responsibility for more info on the roles to stick to during mealtime that will make all the difference!
That’s it! The 10 questions you’ve been wanting to ask are now answered, so you’re even more prepared to be dealing with those very specific scenarios that are bound to come up with your babies and toddlers. I always answer questions on “Q&A Wednesday” over on Instagram, so if you have a question please submit it! If I don’t get through all the questions, please know that I do read them and they help me come up with topics for future blog posts and podcast episodes. You can also submit a request for a topic to be covered on an upcoming podcast here.
If you loved learning all these nitty gritty details about feeding your babies and toddlers, you’re going to love my courses because they are so in-depth and cover all you need to know! They also come with exclusive access to my client-only Facebook group where I answer even more questions live, on a monthly basis, and am available to answer questions as they come up, along with the wonderful parents and team that are already in that group. Can’t wait to have you join us – enroll now!