Self feeding (8 months) & Tips for feeding toddlers

My 8 month old, weighing 8 kg and 69 cm long, has recently refused to be fed. However he is not very adept at feeding himself. I have begun to cook soft table food for him so he can feed himself yet it seems like most of the food ends up on the tray and floor. His weight gain has been slow since 6 months. Lately he has become very picky about his food. I have tried to let him drink more milk since I am not sure if he eats enough. I also have a two year old who is a difficult eater. Every meal time is a bribery. She will only eat vegetables and rarely meat, unless it is mashed up very softly. Can you suggest anything for me to help her to become a better and healthier eater?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Dear Catherine,

It is very common for a baby at 8 or 9 months to begin refusing to be fed. It is their move towards independence and a sign of them developing and maturing just as they should. Some babies are more willful than others and absolutely insist on doing it all themselves. You are doing the right thing to try to accommodate this stage of development by giving him foods that he can feed himself. As he is feeding himself, you may calmly and without forcing try and get a spoonful or two yourself. Also allow him to have a baby spoon that he can try.

It is unavoidable that there will be some mess and some waste of food. It all comes with the territory. You can minimize the waste and mess by not presenting him with too much food at one time.

Your son is in a period of transition of getting most of his nutrition from formula or breastmilk to getting it from table food. You want to begin to cut back on the milk feedings and replace it with solids at this point so I suggest that you don't allow him to drink more milk in fear that he is not getting enough other food. Also, do not worry that he is not getting enough to eat. Babies will not starve themselves. They may refuse to eat for a while to show you who's in charge, but they will eat. The best way for you to handle the situation is to be matter-of-fact, patient, and calm. A pleasant feeding relationship between you and your child is as important as the food you present to them.

Your baby is at an age where you can be moving into a three meal a day schedule with a snack in between. Allow him his formula in a bottle in the early am and before bed and as snacks. At breakfast, lunch and dinner serve the solid food first, and serve liquid in a baby cup. When the meal is all over, you may offer him a bottle. If you allow him to drink more than 16 to 24 ounces of milk a day, you will begin to crowd out other foods and the important nutrients they contain.

Be sure that he gets a good source of iron everyday, either with an iron fortified formula or with an iron fortified baby cereal. If he refuses to be fed the cereal, allow him to help feed himself, even if it means him getting his hands in it! Babies at that age do not eat much food. One tablespoon of a fruit or a vegetable, for example, is a normal serving size.

Continue to offer him finger foods. Fruits and vegetables are important in his diet but you need to be careful not to feed too many fruits or vegetables since they are filling without necessarily containing all the food energy your son needs. Include some high fat, high calorie foods also such as soft pieces of cheese, full fat yogurt, egg yolks, avocado bits, muffins made with egg, oil and whole milk, maybe with a little dry milk powder added to the batter to boost the protein and calcium content. Continue to offer a variety of foods. The more he is exposed to the more apt he is to come to accept them, and the wider the variety in his diet the more easily he can meet his nutritional needs.

Babies and children go through stages as they eat. They are adept at adjusting the amount they eat to their needs. During periods of rapid growth (kids seem to grow in spurts rather than on a steady continuum) they eat more, and then between those spurts it often seems as if they eat nothing at all. Allow your baby to stay in touch with his hunger cues by not forcing or bribing and this will serve him well for a lifetime.

The same is true for your two year old. Toddlers, according to parents, never eat enough. This is because their growth rate has slowed considerably, and at the same time the world has become a more interesting place to be and they'd rather be playing than sitting at a table to eat. Your job, when it comes to feeding a toddler is to offer them a healthy variety of foods in a toddler friendly fashion, and then allow them to decide how much of it they will eat. Do not become a short order cook. Be sure to have at least one food they like at each meal. If they eat little or nothing at a meal, don't worry, there is always the next meal.

Meat is one of the least favorite of toddler foods and it is because it is often too tough and too dry. There are plenty of alternatives to straight meat that you may try instead. A moist cooked fish flakes easily in the mouth. Cook beef into a moist meatloaf and offer small bits of that. Instead of chicken meat, offer ground chicken made into little meatballs with some bread crumbs, milk, and egg.

Keep in mind these following points when feeding your two year old:

  • Toddler food intake goes down as her growth rate slows so therefore she is less hungry. Because of this it is important to be aware of child size portions. An adequate serving size is 1 tablespoon per year of age or 1/4 an adult portion (eg. 1/4 banana). It is easy to put too much on the plate and make the child feel overwhelmed by the amount.
  • Toddlers will spill and drop a lot. They will use their fingers and make a mess. Therefore, food should be easy to pick up.
  • Toddlers won't be able to chew tough things so food should be easy to chew. Too dry food can get stuck in their mouth. Slippery smooth foods are hard to keep in position in the mouth (eg. grapes, jelly beans) and can be a choking hazard. Food should be in bite size pieces.
  • Toddlers like colorful foods.
  • A meal should provide protein, bread or cereal, fruit or vegetable or both and milk.

If you are relaxed and happy at mealtime, your children will sense that and mealtime will become a more pleasant and inviting place to be. For your toddler, be firm about setting and enforcing appropriate mealtime behavior. This will help minimize attention getting, or other types of non-eating tactics. Meals should be a relaxing time during the day where the family can come together to nourish themselves and visit. Setting up this pattern early in their life will give you a great foundation for when they get older. They will come to depend on family meals and you will be less apt to become one of those families where no one ever eats together, and meals are eaten in haste and alone.

Lots of luck. Relax and enjoy your kids and be reassured that they know better than we do just how much they need to eat.

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