My 16 month old is reliant on her bottle more than the food. I try to offer all kinds of food, small portions, and she does know how to sip water / juice from a straw sippy cup, but barely does. How can I get her to eat more? Do I take away bottles completely? She picks and chooses when she wants to eat I often feel like a failure. I’m left with a messy kitchen with a toddler that won’t eat anything. This has been going on since 11-12 months.
Your situation reminds me a bit of something my son had to go through. Because of medical reasons, we couldn't start him on normal solid foods when most kids start them. So we went through a period where he was still pretty reliant on bottles while learning how to eat real solids. It took some time but we've gotten him to the point where most everything he eats is solid food (we still use bottles for naps, but that's a comfort thing, not a nourishment thing). I'm going to just list all the advice we got from medical personnel and what worked for us since I don't really know what you've done or not.
- Be patient - Your child is learning how to eat, learning what she likes and doesn't like. You are learning what works for her and for you. It's going to take time. Try different things and keep doing them for a while (at least a week or so). This takes some experimentation so don't give up on something just because it failed once. Don't get discouraged because some advice wasn't the miracle cure you were hoping it was going to be. Know it will get better (I've never seen an older child, much less a teenager or adult who still takes bottles).
- Normalize eating together and exposing your daughter to eating solids - We would put our son in his high chair and give him a toy or two to play with even before he could eat normal solids. Once he could eat some things (like puffs) we would give him some of those as well. The idea here is that if they get used to the idea of eating solids by doing it themselves and by seeing you eat solids as well it will generate interest. Kids love to imitate their parents and will become interested in the things they see you interested in ("Mommy is always playing on her phone, I want that. It must be interesting!" - now we just apply that principle to food).
- Try feeding your child off of your plate - Putting the same food on your child's plate / tray might not make them interested in it. Food is always more interesting when it's something you have and are enjoying. Give yourself some extra food and when your daughter shows interest give her some of your food. We've also sometimes put food on my son's tray then taken some of that food and eaten it ourselves. By eating the same food my son has on his tray it seems to get him to try more things.
- Experiment with more foods and how you serve them - My son had a phase where, like your daughter, he didn't eat much more than puffs as far as solids went. We tried different foods from the baby section of the grocery store and found some things he liked (he ended up loving these dried yogurt bites, kind of like the puffs but with a lot more flavor). We also tried sharing our food (see #3) as well. I eat yogurt and cereal as part of my breakfast. I still share that with my son (give him spoonfulls of yogurt and give him handfulls of dry cereal). Experiment with how you serve foods. My son hated mashed up / pureed green beans. He loves the whole green beans that come straight out of a can. Also know that toddler's take a number of times trying food to decide if they really like it (I think someone told me it takes at least 11 times but I don't have a source handy to back that up), so they might love something one day and decide it's disgusting the next.
- Make sure your child is hungry - cut off bottles and snacks a bit before meal time to make sure your daughter is hungry when solids are given. We were told to try to stop giving food about 2 hours before meal time. You may need to adjust that (and possibly adjust it more than once as your daughter's diet matures).
- Make sure they are otherwise in a good mood - a tired or uncomfortable child is going to have a hard time focusing on food. While not always possible, try to make sure they aren't tired, need a diaper change, etc. Be willing to forgive eating problems when they are having a bad day, it happens.
- Be careful the order you serve foods in / limit what is available - my son does this to some degree but his cousin does this a lot too: you have to give them the food they like least first then move to more desirable foods. If given two foods A and B and my niece loves B but only kind of likes A, you have to give her A first. Once she gets B she will refuse to eat A at all. My son does something similar, but for him it's more of if he can see something else that he wants (we keep his yogurt bites handy on the dinner table) he won't try to eat anything else until he gets some of what he wants. So sometimes we have to hide things so he can focus.
- Get some snack cups - we have some snack cups with rubber lids that my son can reach into and pull out snack food to eat that prevent most spills. He loves to have those and it lets him eat as he wants between meals. Maybe try using something like that and putting something in there your daughter likes (puffs) so she can eat between meals. This might help reduce the dependency on bottles by replacing it with solid foods. Later you can put other foods in there that are more filling. Focus on building the habit now.
- Reduce how much you put in bottles / reduce the number of bottles you offer - hungry children will eat as long as there is something to eat. Make your daughter's bottles smaller so she's hungrier for solids. Offer solids rather than bottles sometimes. Your daughter isn't going to have a prolonged hunger strike over not getting bottles. If she's hungry, she'll eat solids if they are available. That being said, don't be afraid to give her a bottle if she's having problems and you need to save your sanity. This'll take time and it'll go back and forth how well your daughter does with eating solids. Realize it won't all be forward progress and be willing to occasionally do things to save your mental health.
- Be patient - this bears repeating. It'll be hard. It's going to take time. It's not all going to go perfectly according to plan. Forgive setbacks. You will get there.