The second year of life- The Toddler Years- are when the real feeding fun begins. Though
they are more active than their first year, toddlers have lower energy needs for growth.
Their appetite may decline at times, and increase at others. Usually around 18 months,
your babyǯs ǲtwo-nessǳ begins to show itself. Your toddler will begin to assert his own will
and test his limits. She may struggle with separation while trying to discover her sense of
self. The toddler has many strong emotions and opinions, and has to learn self control.
Much of this drama can play out at the dinner table.
The Division of Feeding Responsibility coined by Ellyn Satter in How to Get your Child to
Eat…But not too much is very important during this time. In this division, parents are
responsible for what and when, the child is responsible for how much or whether to eat at
all. The Division of Feeding Responsibility acts as a guide to set the reasonable limits
toddlers need, while not setting you up for battles you cannot win.
You are responsible for selecting, buying, and preparing meals. The toddler meal at this
point may be a modified version of the adult meal. Be sure to offer one liked food, and cut
the food up in a way your toddler can manage to feed herself. Allow your toddler to get the
food into his mouth however he chooses and accept the mess as a learning process.
One important way to provide limits and structure is in the form of regular meals and
snacks 2-3 hours apart – your toddler no longer benefits from ad lib feeding as he did when
he was a baby. Allowing your toddler to graze, sip on milk or juice, or have easy access to
foods is a mistake. It is common when parents feel their children Ǯjust wonǯt eatǯ to follow
them with snacks and provide eating opportunities on the run. This results in very poor
intake at meals, a poor quality diet, and a lack of awareness of hunger and satiety.
Along with timing, parents are in charge of the where and how meals are presented. The
family meal is the most positive thing you can do to influence your child to eat well. You
cannot make your child eat, but you can expect him to sit for a reasonable amount of time
for meals and snacks. You and the other members of the family should sit and enjoy the
meal together avoiding any negative attention to what the child chooses to eat or not eat.
Expect appropriate behavior at the table.
The child is in charge of how much to eat, and whether to eat at all. Your toddler will
quickly figure out eating is something you cannot make them do. Any encroachment on her
job of eating may be reacted to as a threat to her autonomy. How a child eats may also be
added to this list. Letting them feed as independently as possible, giving them help only
when they need it, may be messy, but will result in less battles.
Children move this period with varying degrees of resistance depending on the
temperament of the child and the handling of it by the parent. Itǯs very important to be
prepared to choose your battles. As Ellyn Satter writes in How to Get your Child to Eat…But
not too much, ǲOnly fight battles you can win…you can stop a toddler from doing what you
donǯt want her to do, but you canǯt make her do what you want her to doǳ. You canǯt make
your child eat, but you can make them sit for meal times and act appropriately.