Parenting: newborns to toddlers

How to keep your toddler happy at feeding times

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 12:59pm

Feeding a toddler can sometimes feel like playing a game of Battleships. You sink one problem but then along comes another to blast you out of the water.

Recently, I managed to get my 14-month-old son, Tom, to sit in his high chair for meals after a lengthy battle over him wanting to eat in front of the television.

This turned out to be something of a pyrrhic victory. Just as I was celebrating my success, he struck me with a new weapon - hamster cheeks.

Tom now sits happily in his high chair taking on board food, but will he swallow? With each mouthful, more and more food accumulates, puffing out his cheeks until they get so full that he cannot even speak.

The food stays in the cheeks for up to an hour, and, sometimes, after his nap, I find lumps of lunch in his cot. He manages to look both ridiculous and also ridiculously cute at the same time, not unlike a cheeky little hamster.

I explain my predicament to Karin Reiter, a medical nutritionist and founder of Nutritious & Delicious (nutritiousn

"It's just a phase," says Reiter. "Nothing you can do about it."

This reminds me of what a friend told me about raising children a while ago. "Always remember that everything is a phase. When they're naughty, it's just a phase. But remember that when they're good, that is also just a phase."

Phases aside, I am keen to raise a child who eats healthily, happily and well. I find fussy eating annoying and would like to avoid it. But what I want and what Tom does is not necessarily the same thing, as I am discovering with more and more frequency.

The first issue I want to tackle is lumps. Most babies his age seem capable of chewing and swallowing lumpy food. But my little hamster gags on lumps.

"Some babies are ready for lumpy foods straight from the start, and some take longer than usual to enjoy them," says Reiter.

"Many kids take time to get used to textures, and introducing them needs to be done slowly. That said, at around eight months of age, you can start to grate and mash foods instead of puréeing them, and slowly start making the foods lumpier if the child is ready for it."

Reiter assures me that even though Tom only has six teeth, he should be able to chew, as babies' gums are very strong.

"If your child gags, it's mostly because of a texture that he is not used to," she says.

I follow this advice, introducing more and more lumps. As if by magic, the gagging subsides.

Tom is still spoon fed. But he has recently started to grab for the spoon. Pandemonium ensues.

"Offer your child finger foods and encourage him to eat by himself from about eight months of age or when he indicates he is ready, even if it makes your kitchen look like a hurricane just hit," says Reiter.

As less goes into the mouth and more goes on the floor, how do I know if my little hamster is getting enough nourishment?

"A child will usually eat when hungry and stop when full," Reiter says. "Place a round plate filled with whole grains, good quality protein, and fruits and vegetables in front of him and let him eat until satisfied.

"If he asks for more, let him have more. If he does not finish what's on his plate, do not force him to finish it.

"The key is making an effort to serve your child good quality home-made food with no added preservatives, colours and fillers, rather than stressing about how much food he eats."

Tom still loves his milk, so what should I do about that?

"If your child has reached 12 months and is eating three full meals a day, with healthy snacks in between, then you can reduce the milk intake to two or three times a day," Reiter explains. "When a child is feeling ill, he may prefer to drink more milk instead of eating. This is normal."