Breaking the Baby Food Habit

picky eaters and eating disorders

Photo by kaitie64

You would think that young toddlers would be sick of mashed peas and pureed chicken by the time they turn 2, but nope, some of them still resist the move to big kid food. One mom, chatting a while back in the Food for Tots group, explained that it's a real struggle to get her son to eat anything that isn't mushed, squished, or blended -- he even refuses those soft and chewy toddler dinners.

"He hates cheese, lunch meat, and most things we give him," the mom says. "I have seen him eat the peanut butter out of the inside of a Ritz cracker and the cracker separately, but never together and never a peanut butter sandwich. Is this normal?"

I wanted to know, because I'm sure other moms have experienced this, so I dropped a note to my friend Marilyn K. Tanner-Blasiar, a registered dietitian and child nutrition expert at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.


Tannier-Blasiar says if the child doesn't have any other developmental delays, this is not normal behavior. Toddlers usually want to eat what everyone else around them is eating.

By one year of age, children should eat soft to moderately textured, lumpy foods, and bite-sized table foods. By 12 - 18 months, toddlers should be able to eat finely chopped or ground meats.

Broadening a young toddler's food horizon is important to make sure he is getting all the nutrients he needs to grow. But it's also important for the development of chewing and swallowing -- skills that are fundamental to increasing the types of foods he will eat and expanding his taste preference. You don't want to be serving only mac and cheese for the next 15 years, do ya?

"It's very important to diversify the diet at specific times during the infant/toddlers psychological development because it actually plays a role in developmental stages," Tanner-Blasiar adds.

After ruling out any delays with your pediatrician, Tanner-Blasier suggests asking the following questions:

Are you eating together as a family? The answer needs to be yes. Eating habits are formed at an early age, so parents have to guide the healthy choices -- allowing the child to determine what and how much they eat. 

Was there a prior choking episode? A traumatic event like that can give the child and the parents the jitters, causing both to avoid certain types of chunkier foods. Back up and re-introduce textures slowly.

Are the pieces too big? Are you giving him too much? Sometimes it's as simple as temperature, texture, bite size, or the amount of food. Over the years, Tanner-Blasier has run across several children who wouldn't drink orange juice because the "little floating things" (pulp) in it. This carries over to other texture patterns -- no clumps in the mashed potatoes, etc.

Are you giving it enough time? It takes up to 15 to 20 exposures for children to accept a new food. So DON'T GIVE UP! Work your way up through these texture steps:

-- Semi-liquid, like thick milk

-- Puree -- smooth food with no lumps

-- Mashed -- thick puree with some lumps

-- Chopped -- finely cut pieces of food (like meat)

-- Cubed -- small pieces of soft food that can be picked up between thumb and finger. 

If at any time a toddler struggles with a new texture, go back a step. If they don't gag, you can try another time. Sometimes children just need to get used to it. Wait a few days, then try again. 

If you're still concerned, make sure to bring this up during your next pediatrician visit. An occupational therapist may be able to help.

++ Is there any type of food or texture that your toddler refuses to eat? How did you help her through it?

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