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Can you (how?!) force a toddler to eat?

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 

Some background:  my DD was average at birth, shot up to really chuncky during early infancy, but slimmed way down once she started walking around 10 months.  She had trippled her birth weight by one year, barely... but since then has gained very little weight and TONS of height.  Over the summer she grew 5 inches in 2 months.  When we took her to her 2 yr visit with a new FNP she was just under 85% for height, but had fallen off the weight curve completely - FNP estimated probably around 0-3% if the lines went down that far.  DH is tall and very skinny & has been his whole life.  I am tall and can be skinny, but I tend to eat too much.winky.gif  Since this was her first visit to a doc (I'd done the wt/ht charting myself during her first year), the FNP said she was probably just going to be skinny like her family, but we're supposed to come back in a few more months to make sure she hasn't fallen off any more - I weighed her the other day and I think she's gained *maybe* a pound since October.   




My DD is a very picky eater.  I assume that's normal to some extent for toddlers.  However, we think she's eaten a "ton" when she eats more than 3 bites of something for a meal.  There are days where literally she will only eat a total of 10 or so bites of various meals throughout the day.  This will go on for a few days and then there will be one day where she will eat, still small portions but at least she's eaten.  Then back to hardly anything.


We've done a Child-led eating approach all along since introducing solids at 6 months.  We've never fed her except occasionally in the beginning or when we're trying to convince her to eat, just made the food available to her in ways she could feed herself and let her decide how much to eat.  She can use a spoon and fork really well.  She just won't eat.


If we try to push it she will either flat out refuse or hold a bite of whatever in her mouth for an hour until it's dissolved and then spits it out.  Sometimes we can get her to eat more than usual if she's watching a video while she eats, but I'm hesitant to make the mindless-eating-in-front-of-a-screen connection for her. 




I'm of a mindset to trust a toddler to eat when they're hungry and how much they'd like, except that I think her mood seriously suffers on the days she doesn't eat.  I know I'd be really cranky & emotionally fragile if I didn't eat, too.  Her sleep suffers as well.  The rare days where she actually fills her belly she's happy & cooperative and sleeps so much better.  She has always been extremely active (again, what I'd think normal for toddlerhood) and never, ever, ever, stops moving during the day.  It's one of the ways I know she's finally asleep at night - she's finally still. 


I guess my question is, is there a way to convince a toddler to eat more food?  Should I just stop worrying?

post #2 of 34
Ooooh, we have been there..... Looks like your DD is just about a month older than my DS, who only just really started eating about a month ago. However, he still nurses like a maniac, so always managed to be ok ( or ok-ish) as far as his mood went. But the sleep was awful and he was very lean and tall. I was very, very freaked out truthfully. But the ladies over on the Kellymom forums helped me understand that this wasn't all that uncommon, and if I just continued to trust his own timeline, offer healthy food choices to him frequently and NOT put him under any pressure at all to eat, he would do it in his own time. And a few weeks after I decided to stop stressing about it and trust my child, he slowly, gradually began eating more and more. I noticed he liked peanut butter, so I bought a good, organic kind and offered him peanut butter spoons a few times a day to help get a little more weight on him, which he desperately needed. Peanut butter isnt the most healthy thing in the world, but its what i could get him to eat and it was our 'gateway' food. It eventually worked! Another mama I know had a barely-eating child too, but at thanksgiving one year she noticed her daughter ate TWO bites of pumpkin pie, so she started offering pumpkin pie everyday (along with other, more healthy foods too) and her daughter eventually caught on and began eating more and more. Is there one food in particular that you know she likes or will always eat? I was hesitant to offer so much peanut butter because I didn't want to start a bad habit, but tonights dinner --- which he gobbled up and asked for more of --- was sauteed kale and broccoli with lemon sauce, so I'm no longer worried about that!

What I really didnt want to do was turn the eating thing into some sort of power struggle thing or give him some weird complex about food because I was constantly trying every trick known to man to get him to ingest more than one bite a day, KWIM?

Wow that was long and rambly..... Hope you find something of use in there....

Good luck, mama. And trust your child.
post #3 of 34

No forcing! :)  


1) Remember, their portions are TINY!  

2) Ask her what she wants to eat, and let her eat it, even if it's ice cream ;)

3) Make food available at all times

4) Remember, they need a LOT more fat and cholesterol than we do, for healthy myelinization.  


My daughter is now three, but I was really worried for a while between 1 and 2. She was down about the 5th percentile for weight, and at the 75% for height at one point.  I just started making giant batches of mac 'n cheese and having it ready to heat up for her.

post #4 of 34
Thread Starter 


Originally Posted by ilovewest View Post

 Is there one food in particular that you know she likes or will always eat?  

Haven't found one yet that she will always eat.  There's a better than average chance for scrambled eggs with ketchup, toast with various toppings, and beans - but on a day that she's not eating these get snubbed right along with the rest.  She would eat a whole stick of butter if we let her, but she prefers it on it's own instead of on something.  At the very least I'm going to stop feeling like I'm not feeding her right if all she eats are these few things over and over and over!

Originally Posted by Courtney-Ostaff View Post


2) Ask her what she wants to eat, and let her eat it, even if it's ice cream ;)


Ooooh, my Dh is going to love this one!!  I'm always getting on him about how we need to be offering her healthier stuff and he's maintained his stance that she can have ice cream b/c at least she'll eat it! :lol


Have any tips on how to make food available all the time?  Are we talking snack foods that you can whip out quickly when she asks (she NEVER asks for food, except at bedtime when she's trying to get out of going to bed - and it usually works cause we're so desperate that she eat something!) or would you offer food to her all the time?  Frequently if she does actually ask, by the time we've prepared something she doesn't want it anymore... which now that I think about it, is the same with her father. 



In any event, thanks so much for normalizing this for me!  I think it doesn't help that I'm in nursing school & having the "proper" diet and ht/wt for a kid her age drilled into my head - do you know they're saying skim milk for kids over 2 yrs old now?!  At least if I'm home & can stand it she'll nurse as much as a newborn still - but I've been trying to create some boundaries there b/c I was resenting it big time.   

post #5 of 34

  I keep readily available food on her table, all the time. Sometimes it's cheese and crackers, sometimes it's cheese and fruit. Sometimes it's cheesy crackers. ;)  Sometimes it's cheerios-like cereal. Just something that won't spoil fast, is readily available, high-fat, and makes good finger food.  I don't know what cultures that don't eat dairy feed their kids!!


I think it's hilarious that yours likes butter.  My daughter was the same way!!  I eventually figured out she was craving the fat, so I gave in and let her have a daily dose of potato chips. ;)  Ice cream doesn't have to be awful. The Häagen-Dazs five ingredients one isn't too bad -- cause, wait for it --- it's only got five ingredients! ;)  


Remember, breast milk is much sweeter and low-fat compared to other mammals -- including cows.  


post #6 of 34

We feed DD spoons of butter, as much as she wants.  Between that and cutting wheat out her diet she is starting to gain some weight.  At one point, I could see her ribs.  (Yes, it FREAKED me out.  She's on track for her physical development but woah, you should never see a healthy toddlers ribs IMO.)  I think you can also give kids coconut oil.  DD doesn't like it as much as butter though.  She says, "buddah? buddah?" and grabs the tub out of the fridge.  We get the grassfed kind - it's more expensive than the usual stuff, but I figure if we're giving it to her straight it ought to be the most freaking nutritious butter that I can buy.  And I put this butter on everything I serve her.  I encourage her to dip stuff in mayo, too.


Oh, and the other thing that she loves?  Marrow bones!  Buy some and roast them and scoop the marrow out.  It's so good.  Never met a kid that didn't love it.  I also get really fatty cuts of meat like oxtails, or really cartilaginous bones and cook them until the chunks of fat and cartilage are really soft and feed her that stuff too.  Basically the gristle.  Most people these days don't know that gristle is delicious.  And I try to get her to drink some stock every day but she's kind of meh about the idea.  Anyhow, I make all this stuff on the weekend and keep it in a tub in the fridge and dole it out at every meal.


We also do "monkey trays" with stuff on them.  I try to always have something sitting out on the coffee table for her.


(Yes, she also gets lots of fruits and vegetables.)

post #7 of 34

You know what is great with stock? Rice. You can make a big batch of rice with the stock (brown is fine), which deposits all the yummy goodness on the rice.  I keep it in the fridge in a quart jar, and heat it up for her with a big pat of butter on it. Or sometimes grated cheese.

post #8 of 34

I would totally let her eat a stick of butter if that's what she wants. If she's eating so little during the day, I'll bet she's really craving fat and protein.


My little guy is a pretty good eater but not that chubby anymore (which I kinda miss, 85% height, 75% weight now), but when he got sick recently he totally stopped eating, except for butter and frozen blackberries. I just went with it. I think after 3 days of not eating he ate nearly a half of a stick of butter. I'm like cyclamen, I buy the organic, grass fed stuff, and think it's just fine for him. He still likes to have a bite of butter when he sees it out, but doesn't ask for more, more, more like he did when he was so hungry and depleted.


Also, I think peanut and other nut butters are perfectly nutritious and great for growing bodies. It's got fat, protein, trace minerals, what's not to like? Those growing brains and bodies need fat and protein, especially when they. never. sit. still..!! If we ran around as much as toddlers do we could all practice the Amish diet.


I don't worry too much about what he's eating because we don't really have anything in the house that I wouldn't want him to eat (ok, I do hide the chocolate chips and eat them when he's in bed because he gets obsessed with them!!). We don't really do processed food and eat a wide variety of seasonal stuff. It really does even out over a couple of weeks if I let him choose. He'll only eat fruit and a little yogurt for a few days, but then eat 11 brussel sprouts and 5 sardines in olive oil and 1 T of cashew butter one night, or a bunch of stir fried pumpkin and roast pork belly on jook like last night. I do keep jook (a rice porridge) in the fridge for him to have as a base since we eat a lot of rice + stuff, and he's not really into the texture of rice right now. Again like cyclamen mentions, he also really enjoys the gelatinous, fatty parts of meat, cuts like 7 bone chuck roast, pork shoulder/belly, curried lamb shoulder, chicken thighs, oily fish like black cod, etc. when he's in a meat mood. When he isn't, he won't eat any of it at all.


Good luck!

post #9 of 34
Originally Posted by cyanviolet View Post
ok, I do hide the chocolate chips and eat them when he's in bed because he gets obsessed with them!!


Ha! I keep it on top of the fridge. ;)  I wouldn't mind that she eats chocolate, really, except she's up ALL NIGHT!!!

post #10 of 34
Thread Starter 

My Dh gave her a stick of butter this morning actually b/c he was so sick of hearing her ask for butter.  She ate half of it!  I couldn't believe it.  Last night she also ate probably 4 tablespoons of refried beans - slept from 10-6:30 straight thru!


You can see her ribs & her backbone, actually.  There's part of me that's freaked out and the other part trying to convince myself that if food is available to her she would eat if she needed it.


I will definitely be feeling better about letting her eat whatever it is she wants to eat.  Like I said, I've been drilled lately on low/no-fat, no sugars/low carb diets for toddlers and have been feeling so stressed about trying to get her to eat things like that - when really, the thing she is interested in eating seems to be a stick of butter!


Also - thanks for the tip about having food out and available for her all the time.  I'll definitely try that with some snack type thing that won't spoil. 


Lastly - once your non-eating kids started eating, did their moods/sleep improve overall?  This is my biggest motivation for trying to get her to eat more since she seems just miserable on the days she doesn't eat.  It seems like my goal is to try and convince her to eat, whatever it is, so she'll start feeling better & be more interested in food? 


Thanks, Mamas!


post #11 of 34


Yeah, in the grand scheme of things, id be perfectly happy feeding my DS half a stick of butter a day... If i didnt know he was allergic to milk.

As for ice cream, you can always make your own. That way you know the ingredients that go into it. I make ice cream w honey or maple syrup, and whatever flavors (fruits) we want. They're extremely popular at potlucks, so i know they're yummy. And w cream, eggs, honey and fruit, what's not to love?

Another thing I'll eat for breakfast sometimes, that might be an option - either cheesecake or flan/custard. Again, dairy, eggs, a bit of sweet from honey, some fruit and it feels like dessert, but it actually has healthy fats and proteins.
post #12 of 34

Oh, food definitely helps the crankies! :)

post #13 of 34

I second the stock idea, with rice or quinoa. I also make rice in coconut milk & keep it in fridge. Then heat it up in sautee pan & stir it together with scrambled eggs. And to that you can add minced greens like spinach or chard, for a meal-in-one. If you can find something she likes that also works as a vehicle for other  foods - scrambled eggs, or a quesadilla are both great meals into which you can slip all sorts of other stuff. I've also seen many mamas on MDC mention smoothies as a similar thing.

post #14 of 34

I used to think that toddlers wouldn't starve themselves.  And in general, if a kid was at a healthy weight and growing well, I would think I wouldn't worry about a seemingly low appetite.  Plus if they don't have their molars yet, they can't chew their food as much.  My mom kept saying she wouldn't be able to digest the solids unless they were ground for her and I'm beginning to think she is probably right.   And while they are getting molars they can be in such pain that they don't want to eat, too.


I do have a friend whose daughter is huge, tall, and over 30lbs at under 2yrs old, but doesn't eat that much.  Yet she keeps growing, her verbal abilities are out of this world, and she's very physically active.  In that type of situation I don't think there's much to worry about.


DD, on the other hand, pretty much stopped gaining weight after hitting 18lbs around 8-9 months?  And took over a year to get past 20lbs.  This can be normal, but it can also be a sign of bigger problems.  I try not to make an issue of what DD is eating but I do spend WAY more time thinking about her food than I ever thought I would have to.  I used to privately think "gluten free dairy free" parents were just neurotic people giving their kids eating issues.  oops.gif


In addition to having a problem with wheat/gluten, I have also noticed that DD can't take milk or cheese really (tmi: constipation and rashy butt), but butter seems to pose very little problem for her.  After learning that there's extremely extremely little milk protein/lactose in butter, I decided to go ahead and see if it might be small enough to not cause her problems and it doesn't seem to cause any obvious ones at this point.  (And for some reason, yogurt and kefir is also less of a problem for her - not no problem, but the benefits seem to outweigh the detractions at this point.)  Beef fat skimmed off of broth tastes almost like butter and is also well tolerated.


post #15 of 34

Yogurt, kefir, butter, and hard cheeses (parmesan, etc) have a small percentage of the casein (cow milk protein) that milk does.  My daughter had a really hard time with milk, but she loves yogurt, butter, and hard cheeses.  

post #16 of 34

Hard cheeses are low-casein as well?  That's good to know. We tried DD on some parmesan and she seemed to be fine, but then when we gave her cheddar, problems.  I thought I'd just been mistaken about the cheese, but maybe not....

post #17 of 34

Have you considered a zinc deficiency?  Zinc deficiency has many symptoms but loss of appetite/little or no appetite is one of the more common ones. Zinc is responsible for our senses of taste and smell.  Food really isn't appetitizing when it doesn't taste or smell like anything, no matter how hungry a person may be!  Those that are zinc deficient will often eat a small number of foods, favoring those that are sweet or spicy.


I suffer from a heredity condition that depletes zinc easily.  There have been times when I've lost my senses of taste and smell for several weeks at a time.  It does make eating (and cooking!) difficult.  One of the signs for me when my zinc is depleted is that foods start tasting somewhat bitter and even things that I normally find delicious are almost unedible.  Luckily for me, supplementing with zinc almost always brings about normal taste and smell for me really quickly, usually within a couple of days.


post #18 of 34

This is all so familiar!  My DD is 21 mos and at her appt last week she was at 24.5 lbs.  Not too bad but since birth she's been bouncing between the 12th - 40th percentile in weight and she's a bit tall (75th percentile) so she looks like she has what I call a "bikini body" - not at all what a toddler should have.  Anyway, we've also struggled with her bowel movements never being solid so we had her evaluated by a pediatric gastrointerologist and we now have a few diet restrictions.  Otherwise, she's very healthy, active and bright.  But she's now developing into a picky eater and things she used to routinely eat, I'm lucky if she takes 3 bites of.


Her & I have had a cold the last couple days and her appetite went to zero.  Her poor little belly looks so small, I hate the fact I can feel her ribs through her PJ's and I've been panicking trying to get her to eat anything I could think of to offer but again, she was even turning down her favorite things (gummie vitamins, bananas, waffles w/syrup, etc).  I talked to my mom on the phone and she asked if I'd tried making her a smoothie...not sure why I didn't think of that.  I made the following smoothie from stuff I already had in the fridge and she gladly tried it cuz I put it in a big girl cup w/a straw which was a treat in itself, and I froze the rest and gave it to her after dinner time saying it was ice cream.  She loves ice cream so there was no coaxing needed.  Yay!  Something actually worked and I felt good because it had enough good stuff in it to partially erase the day of under eating. 


Here's what I put in the blender to make the "ice cream" and then after taking out the amount I wanted to freeze, add a little milk and a couple ice cubes & blend again to make it the consistency of a shake:


1/2 banana

1 cup yogurt (any flavor but for extra fat & calories use original style greek yogurt but add more honey to sweeten)

1 heaping Tbsp of creamy peanut butter

1/2 avocado

1/4 cup honey


It's actually really tasty.  The avocado doesn't add any strange flavor but is a super nutritious good fat, the peanut butter of course is a good fatty protien and it goes great with the banana.  You could always add other fruit but my daughter's diet is restricted from fruits other than apples & bananas for the time being. 


Hope this helps some one else.  I know I'll be sleeping better tonight with a little less food obsession on my mind. bouncy.gif



post #19 of 34

Been there and yeah it was stressful at the time! My son is still only 31 lbs at nearly 4 years old. We tested for allergies, etc and there was nothing.

A big hit here was smoothies! I basically put everything that I could in those smoothies. Yogurt, peanut butter, spinach, various fruits, whatever we had on hand. I always made sure to have bananas in the freezer because that was a good base. Sometimes they looked like horrible space goo or something but he almost always drank the entire thing. That, cheese and crackers, and blueberries were pretty much all he would eat for a while.

He was off the charts at 18 months and back on at a whopping 7th percentile at age 3. And yes, he had/has the visible ribs and backbone. His younger brother is in the 90th percentile for weight at 18 months, go figure.

post #20 of 34

My DD is a take-it-or-leave it kind of eater.  Not overly skinny necessarily (though her weight % always lags her height) but my MIL is a whiz at getting food into her.  Basically she distracts with songs, games, occasionally videos (I know, I know) and sneaks food into DD's mouth meanwhile.  She even brings food to the park and pops bites in between turns on the slide.  It's amazing how much more DD eats under those circumstances than when sitting in a chair at the table (she always wants to get down after 2 minutes).  (Initially I was worried about fostering poor eating habits but ultimately I figured MIL raised 4 kids who all reached healthy adult weights with no food issues, so I decided to relax and be happy DD is eating.)

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