The toddler years are a time of rapid development. Not only are your child’s fine and gross motor skills improving, they are fast becoming an individual that knows what they do and do not like. This is especially true when it comes to food choices. While many toddlers enjoy trying out different textures, shapes, flavors, smells and even colors of food, others can become quite picky about what they will and will not eat at this age.
The following is an overview of the top dietary milestones that occur during this time; is your child on track?
The Age of Discovery – 12 to 18 Months Old
During the first year of life, a baby relies mainly on breast milk or formula for most of their nutrition. Any solids that may have been introduced prior to reaching the end of the first year are normally cereals made from finely ground grains such as rice, wheat or barley, and thinned with water or strained juices. Purees of easy to digest fruits and vegetables, such as cooked apples or peas, may have also been offered in the later months leading up to their first birthday.
Once a baby reaches the end of their first year, their diet will begin to diversify and change rapidly over the next six months. The number and types of foods that you are able to offer baby at this time increases. By 15 months of age baby should be able to eat most of the meals that have been prepared for the rest of the family as long as the meats, vegetables and fruit dishes are chopped, mashed or ground.
Your baby is no longer an infant that is completely dependent upon you, but is now a young child with growing capabilities. Young children begin to show more autonomy and self-care at this time and will start trying to feed themselves with a spoon and drink from a cup. By 18 months they will have enough practice that they are able to drink from a cup and swallow liquids without leaking or dribbling.
Most will pick up and eat soft finger foods on their own during this time as they are now able to bite foods very well and have begun to chew with their lips and mouths closed.
Most toddlers enjoy sampling new tastes and textures during this time. They may spend as much time playing with their food as they do actually eating it, so mealtimes can still be quite messy.
Growing Skill, Control and Preferences – 18 to 24 Months
18 months to 2 years of age is a time where young children further develop and hone their fine and gross motor skills. At this age, they are able to easily scoop up foods with their spoon and have begun to successfully spear foods with their forks.
A greater number of food choices are available to your child at this time as their biting and chewing skills are also becoming more developed. Young toddlers at this age are capable of chewing up and down, side to side, and round and around. Their facial gestures while chewing may be a bit exaggerated at times. Young children at this stage begin to show a clear preference for foods that are a bit more solid and chewy in texture.
Greater physical control over eating utensils and ease with chewing and swallowing is matched by your child’s growing sense of self. At this stage they will display clear preference for specific foods.
A “Big Kid” Now – 2 to 3 Years
Between two and three years of age, young children enjoy showing off their growing skills and abilities. They prefer to do more things for themselves, and will begin to serve themselves from the food dishes that are placed on the table. They enjoy pouring juices and other liquids from small containers into their cup and can use a napkin to wipe their mouth and hands.
As their independence grows, young children at this stage may start to become fussy about what they will eat and can become what are known as finicky, or picky eaters. They not only have clear preferences in tastes, flavors and smells, they often refuse food that isn’t a specific shape or color and will become quite vocal about what foods they do and do not want to eat. It’s best to not get into a test of wills and battle over this, but continue to offer a variety of nutritious foods to your child and allow them to pick and choose what they will eat.
When to Call Your Doctor
There is a wide-range of what is considered normal development when it comes to achieving certain milestones. Even if your child seems to be lagging a bit behind in one area, this does not necessarily mean that anything is amiss, but you should always follow up with your child’s doctor whenever you do have questions and concerns about their growth and development. This is especially true if your child seems to have slow growth, poor development of motor skills or a lack of weight gain.
As toddlers grow and develop, sometimes they do exhibit signs that could indicate illness or another condition that warrants further investigation by their pediatrician or healthcare provider. For example, it’s a good idea to contact your child’s doctor if they experience rashes and hives in response to certain foods. You should also consult with the doctor should your child experience coughing, difficulty swallowing, or vomiting during meals or shortly after and whenever they have abnormal bowel movements that occur for several days.
Overall, the toddler years are a time of growing skills, and the development of their personality. Embrace these changes and don’t forget to have fun with your child as he or she gains greater independence and grows and matures!