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Tips for Feeding Your Toddler

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Helping your child grow healthy and strong is one of the delights of parenthood. And it's a big job, especially in the first two years. Use this information to see when your child is likely to reach certain developmental milestones and what your child should eat at each stage. But remember, each child develops at a unique pace, and not all children will do the same things at the same time. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your child's pediatrician.

Finger Feeding

Self-feeding begins with finger feeding, usually around 6 months of age. By this time many children can use their hand to grasp small pieces of food and bring them to their mouth. Soon they will refine their skills and be able to grasp foods using their thumb and index finger.

At this stage, provide your child with soft, easy-to-grasp foods that are easy to swallow. Foods such as cooked noodles, dry breakfast cereals (without nuts or chunks), soft canned fruit cut into small slices (peaches or pears) are good options. Avoid foods such as grapes, nuts and whole hot dogs, which can cause choking.

By providing foods that are easy to grasp and safe to eat, you will help your toddler develop the independent feeding skills she needs.

Spoon Feeding

This is one of the many transitions that lead toddlers from babyhood to childhood. Soon after your child learns to eat with her fingers, she will want to learn how to eat with a spoon. She may become interested in spoon-feeding as early as 8-9 months of age, but the skill will take several months to master.

Your toddler will let you know when she wants to feed herself. She will try to grab the spoon away from you as you feed her or refuse to open up when you offer her food on a spoon. By letting her try to feed herself, you communicate trust to her.

These tips can help the two of you make the transition from you spoon-feeding your child, to your child feeding himself:

  • Let him experiment with dipping the spoon into his food and trying to get it into his mouth. Be patient at this point, it can get messy.
  • Alternate bites from your spoon and his spoon. This allows your toddler to develop hand-eye coordination, while making feeding more efficient, and reducing his frustration with learning a new skill.
  • Fill his spoon, but let him do the feeding. This helps reduce waste from spills, but still gives him the feeling of accomplishment that comes from feeding himself.
  • Try spoon-feeding at the beginning of the meal when he is the most hungry. When he loses interest in spoon-feeding, give him some finger foods to complete his meal.
  • Give him a spoon to play with during snack time. Seeing you handle the spoon will help him imitate you and learn how to hold it properly in his own hand.

Picky Eaters

During the 2-5 year range, kids are ready to explore new foods. They want to taste and enjoy the same foods as the rest of the family. Unfortunately, this is the same age that kids may become resistant to consuming new foods. Her diet may be based on 4 to 5 familiar foods. Strong likes and dislikes may change quickly at this age.

Helping her to accept new foods requires repeated exposures (5 to 10 times) to new foods and continued opportunities to learn about food and the social aspects of eating. Give her small portions of a new food along with foods you know she likes. If she likes the new food offer a second helping. If she doesn't, try again another time.

Don't worry that she might not be eating enough. Children can self-regulate energy intake so even if they refuse to eat at one or two meals, they are usually getting adequate energy for growth and health.

Eating on their own

Just like you, your child needs food from all food groups. However, there are some foods—like salad—that your child will not be able to handle yet. Here are some tips for making table food into toddler-friendly food:

  • Grind or finely chop meats
  • Cut vegetables into small pieces and cook them so they are soft and mushy (recommend removing skin)
  • Serve soft or fork-mashed pieces of fruit (recommend removing skin)
  • Provide cooked noodles, rice, or small pieces of tortillas or bread
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