How we’re feeding our toddler

Follow me on @inspiralizedkids to see Luca’s plates everyday!

Our general philosophy about feeding Luca, our almost-17 month old toddler is this: nourish him as best we can, while having fun and exposing him to all types of foods.

For the most part, we try to eat as healthy at home, because we have the time and resources to do so. We can shop for the right ingredients, prepare meals in advance, and control what’s in our fridge and thus, what’s in our bellies. This is our opportunity to eat our best, so that when life happens, it’s okay if we all need to grab pizza (those are our favorite types of meals anyway!) We want to teach Luca how to eat well and that it’s important to fuel yourself, but that food is not only fuel, it’s meant to be enjoyed – and there are foods that are just there for enjoyment, and that’s okay.

While we can bake “healthy” cookies or make “healthy” pizza, we like to generally go out for those items and get the “real deal” so Luca learns that there are different types of foods out there – some are greasy, cheesy, and sugary. And we like to make a trip out of it – like go to the ice cream store together and all sit together and enjoy the moment. If we’re going for pizza, we go to a bustling pizza parlor and enjoy every last bite.

A quick note on sugar – we’re trying to do as low sugar as possible, mainly because we want him to fill up on nature’s sweetness (like fruit, dates, nut butters, etc.) I want Luca to really develop a palate that can taste salt and sugar, and to do that, for us, we’ve decided to not expose him to sugar all the time. Having said that, he’ll have a bite of something here and there, but we never eat something and NOT let him have it. We don’t want him to think there are foods he can’t have because they’re “bad” or “just for adults.” Anything we eat, we’re role models, so he should be able to eat too. He had his own scoop of ice cream for the first time last month and it was so fun!

And if you haven’t been following our feeding journey from the beginning and didn’t know already, we did baby led weaning with Luca, encouraging him to taste all types of foods, not spoon feeding and letting him decide what and how much he wants to eat (by self feeding.) We took both the Feeding Littles‘ infant and toddler courses (use code INSPIRALIZED for $10 off), read a bunch of books, and the baby feeding experience was an absolute blast! Luca tried everything, ate lots of new and exciting foods, and going out with him to restaurants was easy and exciting.

Managing a picky eater

Then, he became a toddler. Around 12-ish months, he just stopped eating a lot of different types of foods. He became…. picky! This is absolutely normal, and I hear from a lot of mamas (how did BLW and who did not) that like clockwork, when their babies became toddlers, they stopped eating a lot of their “favorite” foods and their palates seemed a lot more limited.

What I’ve realized is that everything is in stages and “this too shall pass.” Luca never used to want to eat bread, and now he loves toast. He used to not touch waffles and now he loves them slathered with almond butter. He never touched chicken nuggets, and now he gobbles down 3-4 of Applegate’s gluten free chicken nuggets in a sitting.

He’ll surprise me randomly at a restaurant and eat a plate of garlicky broccoli rabe. And there Lu and I are, trying not to make eye contact, in the fear that he’ll see us noticing and he’ll stop eating, haha.

What happens is this: your baby is exploring foods and pretty much eating because they’re having fun and trying everything. THEN, they realize that they have opinions, their own set of tastebuds, and their own consistency preferences, and they start making choices, because they’re done “discovering” and “playing” and really want to eat what they like.

So how do I manage this? See below on “dealing with food/plate waste,” I just wanted to mention that yes, Luca is a picky eater and yes, it’s totally normal.

And just a note – it’s all about offering. Offer, offer, offer. If he doesn’t eat string beans, offer them again a few days later or the next week, prepared a bit differently. And repeat. And repeat. Like, repeat 20 times. Eventually, he’ll try it!

Eating at restaurants

I can’t recommend this enough. We take him out at least once or twice a week to a restaurant. Sometimes, I’ll bring leftovers or just a banana/almond butter sandwich, just in case there’s not much on the menu for him (but 9/10, there usually is.) Mostly, we just go! I bring his bib, a plate, a fork and knife, and usually something little for him to nosh on while we wait for our food (something that won’t ruin his appetite, like Purely O’s.)

Eating out at restaurants exposing Luca to this social norm, gives him early experience on how to “act” when out at a restaurant (even though table manners aren’t learned at this age), and usually, he’s open to trying different foods. Recently, we were out in Florida visiting my parents, and Luca was reaching for Lu’s snapper (in a tomato sauce with capers.) So, we gave some to him on a fork and he gobbled up the whole plate!

It’s a way for us to also expose Luca to things like “kids” meals (basic grilled cheese, French fries, pizza, etc), so that he knows those are options and he can have them if he wants them. Hopefully, once he can speak and tell us what he wants, he’ll opt for the adult menu 🙂

I’ll write an entire post on this some day, but for now, I just wanted to mention that restaurant eating is part of our toddler feeding philosophy — and a great way to maintain your marriage sanity if you don’t have easy access to babysitters!

Dealing with food/plate waste

Before I even give my opinion on this, please please read this thoughtfully written post by Feeding Littles. It nails it on the head and is much more eloquent and informed than anything I could offer. But since this is my blog, here goes…

The most common question I receive from people regarding my style of feeding is this: if you offer food and he doesn’t eat it, do you offer him something else so he’s not starving?

No, I do not offer him anything else. What he gets is what he gets. Here’s the thought process: if every time you were to offer him food and he refused it and so, then you gave him a grilled cheese, he would end up only eating grilled cheeses. Or, he’d end up only eating foods he wanted and he wouldn’t have the chance to discover new foods. Or worse, you’d just end up being a short order cook, having to make more meals than necessary. When a baby/toddler is hungry, they will try a food, especially if they’ve seen it on their plate a bunch of times. They’ll think, “okay, okay…. I’ve seen this before, and I’m hungry, so let’s try it.” Or at least, that’s how it was with chicken nuggets with Luca! One day, he just picked it up and ate it, after exposing it to him maybe 10 times, at home and at restaurants.

What I try to do is this – when I offer him a “new” food (or a food I know he has seen before but doesn’t typically like), I also always offer a “familiar” food, so something I know he’ll usually eat, so that if he truly is in a mood and doesn’t want to try anything new, at least he can have one food at that meal. But guess what? Sometimes, he doesn’t eat a THING! And no, I don’t give him anything (no, I don’t sneak him some blueberries.)

At the end of the day, you HAVE to trust your baby’s intuition. You have to trust that if that baby is hungry, he or she will eat. Or, if the baby doesn’t eat, perhaps he or she isn’t hungry, is teething, is sick, or just is full enough from the day and their body got the nutrients it needed to make it through the end of the day/night. And guess what? Your baby will probably eat a huge breakfast, so get ready!

As for the actual food waste, like, what do we do with all this “uneaten” food. Well, I repurpose it! For example, if I roast butternut squash and he doesn’t eat it, I bake it into his blender muffins for the morning the next day. I try my best to repurpose food, but it is not always possible. For example, if I serve him avocado and he doesn’t eat avocado (still praying for the day he does!), I’ll usually just save it in the fridge and plan to put it on my sandwich later BUT since it goes bad pretty quickly, I’ll just toss it.

To reduce food waste, you have to be super super tactical about meal planning. For example, “If Luca doesn’t eat these peas, what can I do what them? Okay, the next day I’ll plan on making my Turkey Quinoa Bake with Peas.” See what I mean?

Remember this: we all grow up and are just fine

Someone once made this joke, “He’s not going to go to college in his pajamas!” when referring to their kid, who refused to get out of his pajamas. Do your best, don’t sweat it too much, and if you’re worried about nutritional deficiencies, talk to your pediatrician. The most important thing you can get out of your feeding experience, in my humble opinion thus far, is that it should be enjoyable and promote a healthy relationship with food. If you’re telling your kids they can’t do something until they finish their plate or dangle cookies in front of them like a horse and a carrot, they’re not going to have the best feelings about mealtimes. Food shouldn’t be for punishment or a reward, it should be for fuel and for enjoyment.

But again, this is just one mamas opinion! Do you. Whatever makes you comfortable, whatever allows you to maintain your sanity as a parent is what is best for you and your little one. Don’t ever lose sight of that!

Q&A – Feeding Luca

Let me give this section a HUGE preface. I am merely sharing my experience with MY son. I have no professional training here, so everything is based off of things I’ve read and my experiences with Luca. I highly, highly recommend talking to your pediatrician or an infant feeding specialist before making any major changes. And, one last time: take the Feeding Littles courses! TRUST ME. They answer ALL these questions with accredited sources. Code INSPIRALIZED gets you $10 off!

How do you react when your toddler throws food on the floor?

It’s so frustrating, isn’t it? Even though my blood is boiling inside, I try not to let that show. I try not to have much of an expression at all and I DO NOT pick up the food (the baby is testing cause and effect, so if you pick it up, he’ll try to do it again) and instead, I explain in a calm voice, “If you’re not going to eat that, please don’t put it on the floor, your plate belongs on the table. If you don’t want to eat it, that’s okay.” That’s usually my go-to line. The concept is this: don’t entertain behavior (or react to) you don’t want repeated and praise the behavior you want repeated. So, when he continues to eat neatly, I say, “I like how you keep your plate on the table!” or “You’re eating just like Mommy and Daddy.”

If he continues to do it with something that’s super messy, I’ll take away the plate and say, “Are you all done?” I’ll try to give it to him using a different utensil or a novelty item (like a measuring cup or something) and try another tactic. If he keeps playing, I’ll say, “Okay, you’re all done,” and start cleaning up. Sometimes, he’ll scream and I’ll come back, calmly, and offer it again. And let me tell you guys – it takes SOOOO much patience to do this, but I try not to raise my voice or get angry.

My 15 month old daughter snacks all day, how do I prevent her from wanting to eat on the go?

From what I’ve learned thus far, the baby should only eat when it’s a meal or snack time. So, I try to feed Luca every 2-3 hours to ensure he’s never hungry and thus, eating sporadically all day long. It’s important she’s hungry at meal times or else she won’t eat and will just rely on those all day long snacks.

His eating schedule is like this right now (give or take 15 minutes):

  • 7:45am: Breakfast
  • 10:00am: Snack 1
  • 12pm: Lunch
  • 2:30pm (whenever he wakes up from nap): Snack 2
  • 5:30pm: Dinner

Is it normal for them to just not eat at all for one meal, or not eat something they ate before?

100000%. Luca will eat an entire broccoli grilled cheese one day and not want to have anything to do with it another day.

What do you pack for on-the-go snacks?

I keep it pretty simple! It’s usually a clementine and crackers (I love Annie’s White Cheddar Squares or their Whole Wheat Bunnies), or some of my blender muffins and Cascadian Farms’ Purely O’s. Sometimes I’ll just give an energy ball. I’ll do a sandwich, like banana and almond butter on whole wheat bread, but that can get a little messy, so it depends on where they’re going.

Here’s a list of my favorite go-to snacks for Luca right now.

What if they refuse all food for days on end?

They’re probably going through something developmental, they’re teething, or they’re sick. That’s usually the only reason they won’t eat anything (even your trusted foods/meals.) If it persists, speak to your pediatrician, it could be a bigger issue. In my short experience, Luca won’t eat much for a few days and then a tooth will pop up. It recently happened and I noticed he got molars!

If you don’t eat red meat for the reasons you have mentioned int he past, why feed it to Luca?

I want Luca to get exposed to all types of foods and be able to handle them. I don’t want him to develop any allergies or any extreme aversions. Just as we’re approaching religion, I want him to reach the age where he can make the decision himself. In the meantime, I’ll present everything!

How do you make sure Luca is getting all the nutrients he needs?

There’s a fun little chart in the Feeding Littles course and I have it pinned up next to my desk for when I meal plan. If I notice he isn’t eating a certain nutrient group (say, like, fat), I’ll just adjust a little to offer him more fats. But, there’s usually a reason he’s not eating a certain food, so I let him go with it for the most part, trusting him to listen to his body. Also, I look at the week, not the day. I go less crazy that way!

Can you share a sample meal plan for a day?

Sure! Here’s what he was offered today:

Breakfast: 2 Waffles with almond butter (about 2 tablespoons), 1 Chopped kiwi, 1/4 cup of pear overnight oats
Snack: 1 Clementine, 1 Little Duck Organics Fig Bar in Blueberry + Kale (in a stroller on the way to gym class!)
Lunch: Ground turkey quesadilla on a Siete tortilla, Guacamole with cucumbers, Steamed purple sweet potatoes
Snack: 4 Butternut squash blender muffins + 1/4 cup Purely O’s cereal
Dinner: Ravioli with veggie marinara sauce, Steamed carrot, 3 Dr. Praeger’s Spinach Littles

Hope this was helpful! Good luck with feeding your little ones – just try to enjoy the process as much as possible!

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