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My son, who is 1, is having a hard time making progress with his eating. There are a limited amount of things that he eats (e.g. bread, cereal, crackers, baby food) and he doesn't like to try new food. Generally, our dinner routine goes like this:

  • We give him the food that we think he should be eating
  • He refuses to try the new food
  • He cries because he wants the food he is comfortable with
  • We try to encourage him, give him different options, let him play with his utensils, etc
  • He keeps crying
  • Eventually, we give him the food that he wants to eat

Is it better to give him the food that he wants to eat or to hold firm and only offer him the food that he should be eating? We are currently caving and giving him bread / baby food. Are we encouraging bad habits? I'm a little concerned that he knows if he throws a big enough fit that he'll get the food he wants and can therefore get away with not eating the other food. If we were to hold firm, he would still get a bottle so he wouldn't go hungry...

Note that we will be switching from the bottle to cow's milk in a couple of weeks, we are following a schedule made by his pediatrician in that regard.

  • What food doesn’t he like? What are the ingredients? – NonCreature0714 Dec 28 '18 at 19:22
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    What has your pediatrician said about all this? – anongoodnurse Dec 29 '18 at 15:58
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I respect Meg's answer and find the approach to be very good (I have recommended it myself, but for older children); on the other hand, NonCreature's answer says a lot and is valuable food for thought. I'd like to approach this from the baby's perspective. N.B. There is a lot of variability in "1 year old". I'm going to assume it's in the lower range (i.e. 12-15 months.) An older (closed to 24 months) child is more able to understand a parent's directive, even if they don't like it.

Is it better to give him the food that he wants to eat or to hold firm and only offer him the food that he should be eating? We are currently caving and giving him bread / baby food. Are we encouraging bad habits?

The authoritarian parent would say "Yes". You are the parent, he is the child, and you obviously know his nutritional needs better than he does.

A more empathetic/sensitive parent might ask themselves what they are doing to the child long term if every mealtime is a cry-fest/power struggle.

To be more precise, for some reason, he doesn't like the same foods you do. It may be a tactile-sensitivity thing. It may be habit. It may just be his taste preferences. Who knows? Because the only way the child can express his desires or frustrations right now is by crying.

I'm offering a middle road approach.

Baby food is nutritious. There's no reason he can't continue with baby food. (You can also try making your own if cost is a factor.) I'm uncertain who determined he "should" be eating other things.

Minimize stress and power struggles (a lose-lose situation) by giving him the nutritious foods he prefers right off the bat. (Bread alone is not nutritious.) If you're concerned he's not getting enough of a certain group of vitamins, you can discuss this with your Pediatrician, and might augment with vitamins (as unlikely as that is.)

When it's time for desert, tell him that to have desert, he needs to take one bite (a small one) of an adult food you've served for yourselves. Try to match the tactile effect of his favorite foods: if you want him to try a bite of broccoli, smash it up. etc. If he takes it, he gets desert. If he refuses, he is excused from the table (or he stays and plays with toys that are table-friendly.) If he cries, explain that he could have the desert if he eats the bite. It's his choice, so you don't have to feel guilty about it. He will learn to take that bite eventually.

As I stated before, this is directed at the younger range of a 1 year old. And while you're dealing struggles, start teaching him "feeling words". Kids can understand a lot more than they can express. Helping them to name what they are feeling is a great gift.

Please ask yourself how you would feel if someone served you something for dinner that you have repeatedly told them you do not like. As an adult who understands feelings, you might initially be annoyed or puzzled, and you might repeat your wishes at every meal. Soon you would feel unheard or disrespected or even unimportant or unloved, which usually leads to either deep sadness or anger. I'm not saying it's the exact same thing with so young a child, but I hope it's something worth considering, especially with the older 1 year old.

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I am not a doctor, but I personally handle feeding my little one using the 'division of responsibilities': Adults decide what is being served and when mealtime is. Child decides what and how much (of the foods being served) to put in their bodies. Ideally meals are planned such that they are usually/reasonably healthy and complete, and there is at least one 'acceptable' (even if not favorite) food the child can choose. Serve foods -you- eat: those that are part of your family tradition, your culture, your preferences; foods with texture and flavor. Don't put the focus on 'kid foods' like chicken nuggets or plain pasta, although you can serve them sometimes if you want to. The whole family eats together, nobody gets a special different meal made for them, and the focus is on chatting and connecting, not on what or how much everyone eats. In some families, everyone has to have at least a little bit of every food served on their plates, but there is no rule that they must taste or eat all of it. When you start, you probably will only see your child eat their 'comfort zone' foods. Don't make a big deal of it or give in to whining for other preferred foods, as long as there is at least one thing offered that your know your child 'doesn't hate'. Giving in to crying for favorites at every meal definitely can be the start of unhealthy habits, but the goal is not to put your son in the position of having to eat something he hates or nothing at all, which also fosters an unhealthy relationship with food.

The goal is to remove the power struggle aspect of feeding kids without swinging to the arguably-unhealthy and evidently annoying habit of always serving each kid only their most preferred foods. Repeated low-stakes exposure to new foods, even if only to the sight and smell of them, in theory habituates kids to accepting a more varied diet without resorting to force or bribery.

If he eats well at meals aside from dinner, you might also find that it helps to reduce the amount snacks, or the serving size of his favorite foods at meals earlier in the day. He should be hungry enough to be very interested in food by dinner time, but not necessarily desperately famished (and therefore already upset).

Also please note that I assume here that your son is healthy and of normal weight and growth for his age, such that a couple unbalanced or small dinners won't do him any harm. In general, children with no health or developmental concerns will not starve themselves and will eat less-desired foods when they get hungry enough, but if you feel your child is losing too much weight, having physical difficulty or intense aversion eating the new foods, or might have a sensory processing issue or food intolerance, you should definitely consult a doctor before making any major changes to his diet.

More information on this 'style' of feeding kids: https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/

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It sounds like you really want your child to have good nutrition, that's great! One of the best gifts we ever received was some counsel from our pediatrician when our oldest child was starting solid food. He told us to consider toddler/infant nutrition over the course of a month; not weekly, or daily, or per meal. That took some pressure off of us! This was especially helpful when our second born went through some bizarre eating phases (like he wouldn't eat eggs for 2 years, or he would only eat things that were yellow for 2 weeks). Our doctor also told us that young children do not need a lot of protein in their diets (our oldest wouldn't eat any meat until she was almost 4) 1. He said that if we fed our kiddos good sources of carbohydrates and fats (fruits, veggies, avocados, eggs, dairy) they would get the protein they need. Again this was a big relief for us. Our oldest 2 are both very healthy, active, physically fit adolescents. Our youngest is 3 and she is a very healthy little girl.

All that to say your son is probably getting adequate nutrition because when they are little they don't really need much from solid food (most nutrition at this point is coming from breastmilk, formula, or cow's milk). If he's having any problems, of course consult your pediatrician. However, it sounds like he doesn't have any of issues, so we are down to preference. In my experience, most toddlers have very strong opinions about what goes in their mouth. They may not use any criteria that I understand, but they often let you know what they like and don't like! Make sure you consider all the factors that go into eating food. Things that we might not think about anymore because we have been eating solid food for a long time! Taste, smell, visual appeal, and texture all play strong roles in how willing a child is to try something, and yes the "feeling" in the room is a big factor too! We had two children who absolutely refused to eat any jarred baby food. We just cooked veggies and fruit until they were really soft, cut it into tiny pieces (or mashed it) and fed it to them (usually we let them try to pick it up with hands but sometimes they would use untesils). It's going to be messy, but it's also fun!

One of the great responsibilities and joys of parenting is that we get to frame how our children experience life (this is most true when they are young). So relax! Make this as fun as possible! There are plenty of battles to come, some of them may be about food! Make this initial foray into eating as enjoyable as possible for everyone involved. I would take the next week or two and just serve him foods he likes. Help him realize food time is a fun time! Then when you feel like everyone is ready, put something new on his plate. Encourage him to try it, but don't force it at this point. Remember that a one-year-old is experiencing a lot of new things. Crawling, walking, talking, eating, growing, etc. are all big milestones that are happening in a relatively short period of time. Just like we don't expect our children to just start running one day without all the practice on crawling and then walking, we should look at these initial food forrays as practice for eating. There will be a lot of falls (times where he tries things or doesn't try things) before there is success. Having some parts of his life that are comforting is just as important as all the new things that are happening.

If you find that your child is 5 or 6 and still won't try new things it may be time to sit them down and have a talk. When our kiddos get to be this age, we have a rule in our home that if mom cooks it you have to try it. You only have to try one bite, and you can spit it out if you don't like it. Our oldest tried chicken noodle soup for three years (I would make it several times a year). Each time she tried it she didn't like it until one day she did! I imagine right now this issue seems like it needs to be solved immediately, but sometimes patience is the name of the game. It's ok to play the long game on this, you have many years of eating ahead of you! Good luck!

[1] Protein needs early in life and long-term health

  • Nice answer, +1. You've repeated assertions that need to be backed up or removed (e.g. "young children do not need a lot of protein in their diets"). I added a source so you don't need to. I hope that's ok. – anongoodnurse Dec 29 '18 at 20:14
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    Thanks for the edit and adding the source anongoodnurse! – Musia414 Dec 29 '18 at 22:48
  • My pleasure, @Musia414. Keep those great answers coming. This old dog can still learn a few tricks! – anongoodnurse Dec 30 '18 at 1:31
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This is an alternative view; but perhaps worth considering.

Ask yourself, “why does my child refuse food?”

As a child, I had a strong aversion to milk and onions, and this was a big problem for my mom. Onions were, and still are, her absolute favorite food. And milk was very important because she wanted me to drink milk so I could be big and strong. As a baby, according to her, I began refusing to suckle at her teat, essentially weaning myself. My mother resented it.

She was very adamant, sometimes quite literally only giving me milk and onions to eat, and refusing other food until I drink my milk or ate that onion. Still, apparently I’d rather have starved than drink milk or eat unions.

I was, as she would describe it, “a stubborn little a**hole who would constantly challenge her power.” And one of those places I challenged her power was the dinner table.

Long story short, I was not only lactose intolerant, but also had GERD (acid reflux) which onions aggravated. I also had childhood food allergies, unbeknownst to anyone until they peaked and nearly killed me, but led to much of my “pickiness.” As a baby and young child, I didn’t have to means to communicate “I don’t feel well.” But for a while most of my problems were solving by throwing up or taking a crap.

If your child is selecting healthy foods, it’s probably no big deal.


After all that, my mother still tries to feed me onions.

Some parents never learn.

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    Thanks for the response and +1 for your feedback. However, my son won’t even try the food so I can’t imagine a non-psychological issue. – The Gilbert Arenas Dagger Dec 28 '18 at 22:49
  • @TheGilbertArenasDagger Thanks for considering my answer — I think too many people never get to hear an alternative viewpoint. Best of luck with your son! – NonCreature0714 Dec 29 '18 at 1:54
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It sounds like you are really stressed out and then giving in. Relax, deep breath. You are the parent. You are in charge. If dinner is going to be pureed peas and carrots, then that's what he eats. A 1yo is still getting fed, not feeding himself, so... pretend the spoon is an airplane and "fly" the food into his mouth. It helps if you don't make "yucky" faces while you are trying to feed it to him. If he's crying and fussing, there is probably another reason and it's not because he isn't getting "his comfort food".

He might be picking up on your stress, or he's tired, or needs a diaper change. It's not because he doesn't like baby food. Children really don't know what they like. At 1, they really don't have a lot of tastebuds working yet. And pretty much everything goes into their mouths to begin with.

So, just relax... you might be able to eat a burger in under 10 minutes. But feeding a baby can take a half hour or more (from start to finish). Have some fun with him, pretend you are eating his food. Feed him at the same time you are eating your dinner so that he starts to mimic your behavior. Do not give him food to play with only to ignore him while you eat your dinner.Have a spoonful of applesauce and then give him a spoonful. Do the airplane thing. Try some foods that he can hold in his hand, like a piece of banana, or a real pea. Things that are soft and mushy and don't really need to be chewed.


Appended:
There appears to be a lot of controversy over how many taste buds we have. Some articles indicate that a baby has 10K, an adult 5K. Others suggest adults have 10K. Regardless of how many there are, I think everyone can agree, babies haven't been introduced to the variety of flavors that are available through today's foods. In part, because of the way our society presents food to children. A formula fed child does not benefit from the diet of the Mother in her breast milk. That's not to say that formula is lacking in nutrients. Perhaps that equates to a difference in how picky a formula fed child might be in comparison to a breast fed child. It would make for an interesting study. Oftentimes, a child will reject an unfamiliar flavor one month, and like it a few months later. My Mother always attributed it as a change in our taste buds, but it could be more easily explained that our tastes change:

...taste preferences aren't set in stone; they are constantly evolving...
Age by Age Guide to Feeding Your Baby
One of the main things we know about taste is that liking is a consequence of familiarity...

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    "Children really don't know what they like. At 1, they really don't have a lot of tastebuds working yet." Do you have a source for this? I'm honestly curious because I know a few 1 year olds who have definite likes and dislikes (one even has a baby word for some of her favorite foods). – Becuzz Dec 28 '18 at 16:37
  • Thanks for the response, I’ve upvoted and will make an effort to keep dinners fun / stress free to see if it improves. I have some hesitation to accept this as the root issue though because we are a pretty low stress household overall and fostered the same environment for our older child – The Gilbert Arenas Dagger Dec 28 '18 at 22:55
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    This answer is long on opinion and very short on evidence. Remediating that would be much appreciated. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Dec 29 '18 at 0:27
  • @Becuzz Every person decisions are based on their experiences. If you haven't tried a food (ex: bananas) you cannot determine if you like or dislike it because it isn't in your realm of experiences. So, while a toddler might not like the way peas smell, they will not be able to truely determine a preference (one way or the other) until it has been introduced to them and they have explored the texture and flavor. Preferably on more than one occasion. – elbrant Dec 29 '18 at 18:39
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    The very first sentence of your first link contradicts your previous assertion: "Research shows that infants are born with a predisposition to accept sweet tastes, such as breast milk." When you cite a reference, it's customary to quote a passage that supports your assertions. Throwing in a few links (that may or may not support your opinion) does nothing to actually improve an answer. – anongoodnurse Dec 29 '18 at 20:00

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