This has been my most requested post for awhile. I’ve delayed writing it because feeding a toddler has gone like:
1. child asks for a popsicle
2. you give child a popsicle
3. child cries that you gave them a popsicle
4. parent confused
The short answer to how we’re feeding Jojo: Ellyn Satter. Ellyn offers a succinct explanation of feeding kids of all ages. I’m gonna be sharing more of the long-winded reality of feeding toddlers. We don’t follow everything recommended by Satter, but if you’re looking for how to maintain your child’s intuitive eating nature and raise a child who trusts their body, Ellyn and the below resources are great.
I’ll start by saying I’m not a structured person and I don’t like following set rules. I rebelled against much of baby-led weaning because I felt like some of it wasn’t right for us, but I appreciated the emphasis on allowing the child to self-regulate. I do not like authority figures telling me what to do. I prefer to learn from experimenting and seeing what works for us.
More so than how I feed the girls on a daily basis, my hope is that: 1) them being raised in a house with no dieting, 2) the work I’ve done and continue to do to accept my body as it changes and will change, and 3) modeling healthy ways to cope with life’s stressors…will prevent body hatred in them. No one has perfect body image. Our bodies change overtime and it’s normal for that to need adjusting to in a culture that likes one body shape. I don’t believe to raise strong and confident adults any of us mothers should be trying to develop perfect body image (since there isn’t a person out there who doesn’t have a negative thought about there body from time to time), but we should instead model that we’re mindful to take care of our body in spite of it ending up a size we may not be comfortable with AND we don’t speak hate over our body size.
I joke that if our girls ever really wanted to upset me in their angsty teen years they’ll go keto lol. But I hope we instill within them that level of fatness isn’t indicative of worth, that pursuing health doesn’t mean pursing thinness, and movement is joyful and a privilege to be able to do and something you crave if able to connect with body’s cues, rather than a punishment. Their experiences outside the home will influence them, but their foundation will be a home where we care for our bodies, but don’t expect them or need them to end up a specific size. Marci posted the below the other day, which is a good reminder for clinicians when interacting with clients AND a good reminder for moms/dads when interacting with kids.
Jo is about to be two years old. My biggies are letting her learn to self regulate. There are some things I follow from Ellyn Satter and somethings I don’t. I don’t make Jo sit down for every snack or refuse to give her milk or juice between meals. I could see how milk could fill up her tummy quickly and she wouldn’t eat much food afterwards, but that’s not a change I feel like we need to make at this point since she’s still eating food at every meal (sometimes it’s only one bite, but the majority of the time it’s more than that). My friend Hannah over at Circling Grace described a scenario where she felt force fed by her child that I thought was such a good reminder on how forcing our children to take “one more bite” or be a member of The Clean Plate Club could feel – see the screenshot of her Instagram post below.
To emphasize that we don’t pressure Jojo to clean her plate and instead cultivate the intuitive eater in her who is learning to self regulate her intake, I’ve included some before and after food photos below. With the uneaten food, some of it gets wasted but the majority of the time I’ll stick the leftovers in the fridge and parts of her meals can become a snack or part of another meal.
One of the weird parts of feeding a toddler is that sometimes I tell her no to food and that seems counter intuitive to intuitive eating. Satter says, “Your toddler is at high risk for learning to use food for emotional reasons. Toddlers are active, unceasing in their demands and prone to get upset. It is tempting to give food to quell the riot. Don’t. Instead, stick to scheduled feedings and sort out whether your child is hungry or sad, full or tired. Give attention, discipline, hugs or naps.”
Phew. If one has ever tried to figure out the need of a tantruming toddler you have to laugh a bit at that recommendation lol. But I think what she says is good. From that I get…model multiple ways to cope with discomfort and walk your child through that process. Pay attention to your child and get to know them. I’m on board with that. I discussed something similar for adults to take notice of in my You Have Two Kinds of Hunger post.
Just like as you get to know yourself you are able to know if you need food, connection, or a timeout…you learn to support your child and walk them through the process as they’re sorting this out for themselves.
Some alternative soothing ideas we’ve tried when Jo is screaming for a popsicle but we just ate 2 seconds ago and she didn’t touch her food include first telling Jo we’re not eating right now because we just had lunch and you didn’t eat much, we can have “x” food for a snack in a couple hours…and then we redirect to watching a TV show to just chill out for a bit, going outside and saying “hi, flowers. hi, trees. hi, birds. etc.”, going to take a nap if it’s nap time, going to swing outside in the hammock. I feel like 65% of the time I can tell the difference between when she’s asking for food because she’s extremely tired or when she’s asking for food because she’s actually hungry.
I don’t think we should fear emotional eating. For instance, the below post from Cup of Jo highlighted a mom utilizing emotional eating well imo. It wasn’t emotional eating to numb out, but just emotional eating in recognition of the kiddo having a hard day.
Know emotional eating is a tool for you when you need it, but don’t let it be the only coping mechanism modeled. I believe and try to implement all that I just said, but sometimes Jo does end up having snacks immediately after a meal or she’s tantruming and I know she doesn’t really need / want the milk or granola bar she is screaming for but I give it to her because any parent knows toddlers be toddlers and sometimes it’s just hard.
For eating disorder prevention, modeling healthy ways of dealing with lives stressors is important to me. That is, stress relievers aside from dieting, body manipulation or exercise. Exercise can be a great way to cope with stress for some, but, like emotional eating, I don’t think it should be your only coping mechanism.
Here are some things we follow when feeding Jo:
- We follow Ellyn’s Division of Responsibility (most of the time). I chose what, when, and where Jojo eats and she chooses if she wants it and how much. A blog reader commented and simplified this to: “I provide, kid decides.”
- Since I’m responsible for setting meal and snack times, Jo eats like I eat – meal, snack(s), meal, snack(s), meal (Jo typically doesn’t have a snack after dinner, I 90% of the time do, because she’s going to bed relatively soon after dinner).
- There is always something she’s familiar with and likes on her plate.
- If it’s a new food, I try to offer a TINY portion of it (i.e. one small slice of bell pepper…she still hasn’t tried those haha), because otherwise she likely won’t touch it if it’s piled on her plate. If it’s all something new, what she’s familiar with is usually milk/yogurt/bread.
- We eat all foods at all times of day.
- I have breakfast with Jo, but her lunch and dinner schedule is different than mine and Andrew’s so sometimes we eat with her and sometimes we eat after she’s gone down for a nap or gone to bed, especially when we feel like we need a break. As she gets older I imagine this will naturally shift to us having more meals all together.
- We don’t let Jo act like a maniac at the table. If she’s banging her spoon loudly, we ask her to stop and remind her this is meal time where we eat and not music time. If she doesn’t listen we put her on the ground.
- We offer foods time and time again, she may not touch them for months, but we still offer. Her eating something or not eating something doesn’t determine what we offer her.
- As to not elevate one food over another, we’ll offer dessert as one of her sides from time to time and she’s allowed to choose what she eats and how much of it – sometimes she only touches the dessert and other times she eats everything on plate.
- One recommendation from Satter I highly agree with: Get the focus off what they’re eating and instead on how they’re feeling and behaving at meal times. I don’t want meals or snacks to be a stressful/pressure-filled time.
- If there’s one thing I’d like to get better at it’s figuring out how to handle the dinner meltdown. I feel like while I’m cooking Jo starts melting down and that’s when she ends up having yogurt/cracker/etc. for dinner instead of what I’m cooking for us.
Overall, food isn’t the most important part of our day. We enjoy food, but if we’re at a friends house playing and instead of a lunch we have 3 snacks back to back while the kids play and run around, that’s fine by me. Relationships > perfect meals. One of my friends and I have started serving lunch when we have playdates and that works great so we all can have an actual meal. That came about by trial and error where we moms were ending up overly hungry after playdates, so we discussed and made a change!
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I trust my girls’ bodies to find the size that is right for them. Whatever level of fatness that requires. Regardless of body size, Andrew and I know they can still be healthy and they will be adored by us.
Any tips for feeding toddlers you’ve found helpful? I know there are many instagram accounts for feeding toddlers, so please list your favorites as a resource for others!