Normal Toddler Eating Habits
When compared to adults, a toddler’s (or preschooler, or school-age child for that matter) eating habits may seem down right bizarre and can be concerning to any parent. But when you compare young children’s eating habits to each other, you’d likely see many similarities. Here’s a list of strange (to us adults) eating habits that are actually quite normal in young children, as well as some red flags that may signal that there could be a problem.
Food jags are when a child wants to eat one food, and ONLY one food meal after meal for days on end. It could be a couple of food jags cycling over and over, or it could be many different food jags, one after the other. In my house it is often toast with peanut butter and jam or cereal of varying types. This is common to see in children of varying ages, and in husbands. Okay, maybe just my husband. As long as the current jag is a relatively healthy choice, and your kid is eating some other foods, it’s not a major concern, as the jag will probably change a few days from now.
Needing Foods Separated
Young children are notorious for requesting that their foods not touch each other, and wanting sauces/toppings/garnishes/etc. separated from the main dish. This can become problematic for foods like soups, casseroles and sandwiches. Don’t go out of your way to avoid these types of foods, but if this is a problem for your child, try to separate items if you can. For example: we had sandwiches in my house tonight. My daughter requested hers separated so I gave her bread, a pile of the meat and piles of each of the veggies separated on her plate. I don’t separate soups or casseroles at all – sometimes they get eaten, sometimes they don’t.
Hating a Food One Day, Loving it the Next
Kids are finicky. What you thought they loved one day, they may refuse to eat another day. And vice versa. Also, keep in mind that it can take a child up to 20 tries to accept a new food. So even though you THINK they hate Brussels sprouts (or tuna casserole or whatever), make sure you serve it to them each and every time you make it, because you never know when they might decide they actually do like it after all.
Refusal to Try New Foods
Many kids just don’t like change in general. So new foods generally don’t go down very well (pun intended). Always offer new foods along with already familiar foods and encourage them to try the food, don’t force them to eat it all.
Because kids aren’t as influenced by external eating cues (eating on schedule, social cues, emotional eating, etc.) as adults are, they are better able to eat solely by their hunger. And hunger levels in kids vary. You’ll find that some days your kids are ravenous and will eat everything on their plate and then some, and some days they barely eat a thing. Accept this – don’t force them to eat more or hold back food. It will all even out in the end.
Possible Problem Eating Habits
Hopefully after seeing that the above habits are relatively normal and not generally cause for concern, you are reassured about your child’s eating habits. However, it is always a good idea to watch for possible red flags that could indicate a problem.
Refusal to Eat an Entire Food Group
If your child will not eat anything at all from a particular food group, it could possibly lead to nutritional deficiencies down the road. If they are eating at least some foods from the group (eg. fruit, but not vegetables, or legumes but not meats), there is less reason to be concerned. If your child is missing out on a food group, it is a good idea to consult with a dietitian to discuss alternative ideas to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need.
Not Progressing from Pureed Foods to Finger Foods/Solids
This one would happen specifically in early toddlerhood, after the successful introduction of pureed foods. Sometimes babies/toddlers have a hard time moving on from purees to solid foods. If this is the case, it could indicate a problem and it is a good idea to consult with your child’s physician who may recommend a dietitian and/or speech language pathologist.