Withholding food from picky 13-month-old?

Our toddler is 13 months old. She has been a great eater until recently, when she started pushing away certain foods, merely because she would rather have something else. If we put the food on her tray, she will pick it up and drop it on the floor. My wife tells her no, and then if she continues, she takes it away and cuts her off from the rest of the meal. She says that she will learn not to do this. Is it okay to withhold food from a toddler?

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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

You should never withhold food from a child as a means of punishment, nor should you give a child food as a reward. That gives food a role it was never meant to have, and can eventually disrupt healthy eating habits. By treating your daughter's present behavior in a calm way, she will soon learn better ways to communicate her food preferences.

Your toddler is merely practicing her newfound independence. Allowing her to select what she will eat from the foods offered at a particular meal is fine.

You should never force your child to eat anything. You job is to select the foods to be offered at the meal. The rest is up to her, including how much of the food she will eat, or even if she will eat.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is to put nothing on her tray, ask her what she wants, or let her point to it, and then put it on her tray. Throwing food off the tray is her way of saying she doesn't want to eat it.

Withholding food should never be punishment for unwanted behavior. Your baby is at a difficult age for trying to instill appropriate table manners. Of course some behaviors are just plain unacceptable and shouldn't be tolerated. However, from your description, your daughter's behavior isn't bad table manners, it is merely her way of telling you that she doesn't want that particular food. You should respect that, pick the food off the floor in a very casual, nonchalant manner, and not offer any more of that particular food to her. Soon you may find a way of teaching her a more appropriate way to say "no thank you, I don't care for any of that". She may enjoy learning how to shake her head 'no' and see you take the unwanted food away. It will give her a sense of control, yet will be a better way of showing her food preference at a particular meal.

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