Toddler Mealtime Schedules?

An NPN reader asks our natural parenting mentors:

I have a question about my son and a schedule. My son is 18 months old and I still breastfeed, but of course he eats solids too. I always try to get him to sit and eat. He is a pretty picky eater. I can get him to eat a few things like strawberries, carrots, etc., but he does not like to eat almost any type of meat (although, I don’t eat a lot of meat either!).

He eats at his little table. I try to sit near him or in the same spot to help him, but it rarely works. I’m hoping you will give me input on a typical 18 month old schedule. He still naps well in the afternoon, but I’m concerned about his eating schedule. Any help would be great!

Here is what our natural parenting mentors had to say:

Joni Rae: I think it is AWESOME that you are breastfeeding your baby at 18 months! It is so important and such a wonderful gift for you to give him! Good job mama!

As for eating . . . Try to see the way he eats as a compliment to your mothering. Some kids are just grazers and don’t work well with a traditional schedule. Your little guy has a little tummy and it fills up fast. At this age his body is going to tell him when he is hungry and when he is full, and it is hard to regulate that to specific hours. If he is hungry, feed him! It isn’t a conscious decision for him to eat or not eat. He won’t understand “hey it is nine in the morning, I better eat because I won’t eat again until lunchtime!”

The foods you are feeding him are good foods, but if you want him to eat a larger variety of foods, just keep introducing them to him and he’ll eventually develop a more diverse palette. You can try introducing one new thing on a plate with things he already likes. I wouldn’t worry so much about the amount he eats; he still gets a lot of what he needs from your breast milk.

It sounds like you are doing a great job and your boy is healthy, secure and well-nourished!

Jenn: I think it’s natural as parents to worry about our children’s eating habits. We get so used to eating set meals and even having set snack times that it’s hard to imagine small children not doing the same. At 18 months, there is no set meal schedule. It helps to remember that they are closer to an infant than a preschooler at that age. For moms this can be frustrating, because we worry that our children aren’t eating enough or the right things, and it seems like the only time kids want to eat is when you are in the middle of something else!

As long as your son is healthy and active, he is getting enough food. And while working toward a schedule can be a great thing, keep in mind that he is still adjusting and that it is equally important for him to be able to realize and articulate when he is hungry. Dr. Sears says the 18 month old deserves the title of “picky eater,” and notes little ones of this age often graze. He recommends creative eating to keep toddlers attention at meal time. You can read all about eating habits from birth to 24 months on the Sears website. It sounds silly, but cutting sandwiches into shapes, make pb&j roll-ups, and giving carrot chips are more fun than eating a simple sandwich and carrot sticks. We moms are masters of marketing, and sometimes we have to sell it to our kids!

That said, keep in mind that kids this age just aren’t hungry on schedule. They’ll let you know when they need to eat and this isn’t forming bad habits, it’s just developmentally appropriate!

Darcel: It is awesome that you are still going strong with your breastfeeding relationship! That being said, getting toddlers to eat can be tricky sometimes. At this age I wouldn’t worry about a schedule. Toddlers like to graze throughout the day instead of sitting down to eat.

Maybe you could try sitting out a “monkey platter” for him. Monkey platters are plates full of different kinds of foods, cut and ready for little fingers. You could use ice cube trays or special plates with dividers. Fill them with his favorites and some new foods for him to try.

Keep the tray filled throughout the day as you two munch on it. It’s portable so you can take it with you while he plays. Or you could leave it at the table and ask him if he wants a bite every so often. He may go nibble on the snacks without you asking him if he is hungry.

Associated Content offers a Sample Menu for toddlers, but again, you really do not need to put him on a set schedule right now.

Another idea would be to involve him in the grocery shopping or meal/snack preparation. Sometimes kids love to eat what they have helped prepare or picked out.

Since you are breastfeeding you can rest assured that he is still getting all of the nutrients he needs to grow healthy and strong.

Photo Credit: Ben McLeod

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Do you have a question for our natural parenting mentors? Whether you are confused about cloth diapering, experiencing breastfeeding challenges, exploring holistic health, feeling defeated with a challenging behavior, or have an issue about any of the other natural parenting topics, email us: Mail (at) NaturalParentsNetwork (dot) com. We want to help!

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2 Responses to Toddler Mealtime Schedules?

  1. Trevor @ Tootlee  

    This is great advice! I totally agree that at 18 months there is not need to force a schedule or get worried about the child’s eating habits.

    However it is great for a mom or dad to seek answers when they are concerned.

    It can be so easy for us as parents to take our agendas and perspective’s and place them on the child. We need to be willing to rethink our parenting approach and be sure we are really considering the needs of the child not just our needs and the pressures of society.

  2. Shannon

    At 18 months, we free fed our daughter throughout the day, and encouraged her to sit with us at meal times. It didn’t matter how long she sat, or how much she ate, and we gave her very small portions.
    By the age of two, she had self regulated to the point where she would start getting really hungry right before each of the standard meal times. I now discourage snacking for about 30 minutes before dinner or lunch. Except when she is helping me cook (trying each of the ingredients as I cut).
    I think the experts have it right, when they eat is less of a concern then we as parents tend to think it is.

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