One-year-old's Eating Habits

Archived Q&A and Reviews


12 mo. old refuses to let us feed him

Feb. 2004

Our 12 month old son does not care to eat much, easpecially not when it comes to being fed. He munches here and there on finger food (biscuits, breads, tomatos, some fruits..etc), but refuses to be fed anything more substantial and in a regular time schedule. We don't wish to be rigid or force food on him, and understand his need to explore and feed on his own. On the other hand, we are concerned about his nutritional intake and vitamin consumption. Any suggestion on how to establish a feeding schedule and how to get him to eat? Anon.

I'm wondering if the key phrase here is ''to be fed.'' You say your child eats finger food -- maybe the key is just to provide a wider variety of this, rather than getting him to eat what you spoon-feed him. Most children at a year are capable of feeding themselves all kinds of finger food: not just cereal, crackers, and soft fruit chunks, but chunks of steamed vegetables (e.g. steamed baby carrots, chunks of cauliflower, peas), cooked beans, chunks of meat or tofu cubes, avocados, pasta, all kinds of stuff.

My approach would be to keep a bunch of this kind of stuff around (I used to do things like steam a whole pack of baby carrots, or tortellini, or whatever and then freeze it -- I had lots of bags of things in the freezer), and then, whenever I sat down for a meal, put him in his high chair with a variety (maybe something like one protein, one carb, one vegetable, one fruit --a total of 1-2 Tablespoons of each) on the tray in front of him, and let him eat. Remember that kids often don't like new foods at first, and it may take him 10-15 times of encountering something new before he tries it. Karen

Some of the best advice I've seen about this sort of eating behavior is from Dr. Sear's website. I'm not a big fan of some of his advice, but I thought this was good. You can access it at:

If that doesn't work, go to, click on ''Feeding Infants and Toddlers,'' then on ''17 Tips for the picky eater.''

Basically, toddlers are grazers and more than that, they need to graze because of all the calories they burn. There are some good tips on giving them not just one food at a time but several foods for them to sample, how to make it appealing, and what is normal behaviour. Also, try to keep a consistent schedule.

Other good advice I've read is to not worry about them getting complete nutrition every day, but rather think of it as a week at a time. In other words, one day they might have veggies but not want fruit, and the next day they want fruit but no veggies, etc. So they might lack one food group one day but make up for it the next.

And finally, make sure your kid is getting calorie rich food, such as whole milk products, cheese, avocado, etc. Around 40% of a 12 - month old's diet should be fat, as it provides them with the calories they need for the energy they are burning in being active and growing. anon

Once our 10-month old figured out finger foods, she's been on periodic ''spoon strikes,'' refusing to be fed by spoon. At first, this frustrated me; her self-feeding skills were such that she didn't eat as much as she did when she was spoonfed. But we've gotten the hang of it now, and I appreciate that she wants to do it herself. Here are some things that have helped for us: We eat together whenever possible. It amazes me how much my daughter can pack away while my husband and I have a nice meal and talk! She especially loves when we give her food from our plates, and I really like that she's learning the routine of family meal time. It also helps at breakfast, when it's just me, if I sit and have a bowl of cereal as I'm spoonfeeding her.

Because her finger food quantities often end up lower than her spoonfood quantities (although she's getting the hang of it, and I'm sure yours will too), I try to include some real bang-for- the buck finger foods with every meal: hard-boiled egg yolk, lentils, tofu, cubed and steamed fresh veggies, cubed avocado, etc. At 1 year, you can do things like french toast. I usually give her a couple of items at a time on her tray. For example, some peas, some cubed tofu, and some rice puffs.

We have tried sneaking spoonfuls in when she opens her mouth to put a finger food in, but often this annoys her -- it would annoy me! -- so we don't do it much anymore. A more effective ''trick'' for us is that she'll *always* eat yogurt from a spoon. She just loves the stuff. We get plain whole-milk yogurt and mix other things in to it -- fruit, cereal, even pureed broccoli. If there is there a food like that yours will always eat, that may be a good option. Anne Hartman

Our son refused most solids until he was about 14 to 15 months old. He just wasn't ready. We kept trying, because he seemed interested in our food. At an early age (6 months) when fed a finger full of baby food he woke up at night every half hour. He is now 18 months and eating much more, but not nearly as much as children his age. We were concerned about his weight, vitamins, etc,. His weight gain did begin to slow down, but pediatricians (and we went to many!) weren't too concerned, although we were. In the end, he just kept nursing and is fine. He still has days when he eats little compared to other days. We did have his iron levels checked and they turned out to be very good because he is breastfed. Doctors don't usually tell you that breastfed babies actually have better iron absorption than formula fed babies. Maybe get his iron levels checked if you are very concerned...but if your child isn't lethargic, I wouldn't worry! Some children just take longer to take to solids. It turns out our son could possibly not have enough digestive enzymes. He has much more trouble digesting fatty foods (meats, cheeses, etc,.) So..we started with fruits, than veggies...and he never liked baby food! He also refused rice cereal! If you need more advice feel free to contact me. Good luck! Abbie

Picky one-year-old

January 2003

We have a 14-month old son who has suddenly become a very picky eater. He's pretty finicky about what he'll eat and when. He has a regular and balanced diet, though he's not much into meat. We can't predict when he will or won't eat even his favorite things, like pasta and cheese. When he decides he's not into eating something, he'll mash it on his high chair tray, or else drop it on the floor. It's gotten pretty frustrating. Any advice or words of wisdom would be appreciated. Eric

I think that kids tend to do this at about this age. My son ate pretty much everything I set in front of him until about 15 months, at which point he became picky: some meals he would eat only the pasta, some meals only the vegetables, some meals nothing but tofu... and you never knew what he would eat. He also got big into dropping food on the floor. Several months later, he's still like this. What we do is this: we set a nutritiously balanced meal before him, and he eats whatever he wants. We also tell him that if he doesn't want something, or if he's all done, he needs to give the bowl to Mommy or Daddy. Then we let it go. If he drops something it is taken away, and he doesn't get it back -- but we don't make a fuss. Over the course of several days he does eat a balanced meal, and he's learning to say ''all-done'' and give his bowls to his parents, rather than drop them off the tray. Karen

The last baby book I read (Touchpoints: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development by T. Berry Brazelton) talks about this exact issue. The author says this is *perfectly* normal, and as long as your baby is eating the minimum requirements (1 pint milk, 2 oz. meat (or an iron supplement), 1 oz. OJ/fruit (for Vitamin C) and a multi-vitamin) you don't worry about it and let your child eat what he wants. anon

The hardest part about your situation with your toddler's new eating habits is, as a parent, to let go and trust that your child will be absolutely fine and healthy despite the fact that he seems to eat nothing at all. In fact, they say that you should look at what your child eats over a period of a week or even up to a month, rather than on a daily basis, and you'll generally see that he gets all of the nutrition that he needs. It just might mean that he eats only apple sauce for a couple days then only tofu for the next couple of days.

I have a 20-month-old who, about 4-5 months ago, went from eating tons of everything put before him to becoming extremely picky. I think this age is particularly hard because they are unable to tell you what they DO want to eat, only reject the things thet don't want to eat.

It's been a very frustrating road for us, too, and after much soul-searching, we decided that the best we could do was to offer him nutritious options and let him decide for himself what and when he wanted to eat. Sometimes he eats more at snacktime, and so I've tossed out all of the junkier (and alas more convenient) foods and have started to offer only fruit, cheese, crackers, mini-bagels and the like. Also, I've found that my son may eat a lot of broccoli, then reject it for a couple weeks, then start eating it again, so don't give up too quickly.

As for your son throwing food on the floor, this too shall pass. My son still does it to a degree, although these days most of the food that ends up on our floor is due to his sloppy eating. If it's not one thing, it's another. Good luck! Teresa

My words of wisdom: Don't sweat it! Offer nutritious food whenever the family eats and whenever your child seems to be hungry. When he begins to play with, mash or throw his food instead of eating it, the meal is over. (You can require him to help you clean it up. He probably won't be very effective yet, but it's good training!) Many toddlers go through a period of seemingly ''living on air'' and don't suffer for it. If he is still nursing, he will get plenty of nutrition that way. If he is weaned, you might consider a multivitamin. But remember that many toddlers really do eat quite a bit in ''grazing'' fashion while refusing more formal meals, and that's a perfectly healthy way to eat (as long as they're not eating nothing but cookies). But don't push food he doesn't want on him, don't cook a whole separate meal catering to his picky tastes, make sure any snacks he gets after an uneaten meal are healthy, and don't make a big emotional issue out of it, and he'll most likely be fine. Holly

How to get 1-year-old to eat protein?


What really worked for my daughter at that age was Tofu. I would cut it up in small cubes and serve it too her with a dab of ranch or thousand island salad dressing to dip it in. I dabbed the dressing right on her highchair tray and she seemed to enjoy dipping it in a playful sort of way. Some kids may be sensitive to salad dressing at this age, but I was lucky in that my daughter didn't have any food alergies to contend with. Good Luck! Laura

I am dubious about a doctor who says a child is drinking too much breast milk. Too much of the perfect food? Did you cut back on his advice and now her weight drops? Our 2-1/2 yr old still nurses, and ate very little solid food for the longest time. 1 year is not old enough to say should eat all solids. I would advise reading Dr. Wm. Sears on the subject of infant-led weaning. Our boy does like tofu and tempeh. He eats no meat, cheese, eggs, or dairy. He is doing fine. Nut butters or tahine on fruit like bananas are welcome too. Good luck! Nils

Margaret -- I have nothing but sympathy for you!!! If I had a dollar for every minute I have spent worrying about my 1 year old's diet I would certainly not need to work at the university anymore. Although my daughter is not losing weight (she tends to the pudgy side of things), she does pointedly refuse to eat anything but bland white food (bagels, pasta, cottage cheese, vanilla ice cream, and of course her favorite...fistfulls of sour cream.) I have been trying to get protein in the diet for months. I have started becoming quite devious. There are certain vegetables she will eat. Sometimes I will puree that vegetable and hide a crumbled up hard boiled egg yoke in it. I have also been able to disguise crumbled up tofu in pureed peaches or apricots. She also likes some of the sweeter Asian sauces. I can get her to eat almost any meat if it is smothered in sweet and sour or teriyaki sauce. I think experimentation is the key. Take a food they love and hide something healthy in it! Yeah, I know using sugar to get protein down may be a compromise with the devil...but I am finding in childrearing that to a certain extent the end justifies the means. Good Luck!!! Linda

I'd like to reply to the mom whose 1-year-old doesn't like protien and whose weight is dropping off the charts. The weight issue, indeed, seems like a serious problem, but I am perplexed by the doctor's response. It's hard to believe that a breastfed baby is not getting enough protein from the breast milk itself, and a doctor who suggests that baby is getting too much breast milk seems like an ill-informed doctor to me. If you have recently weaned the baby (as is often the case at age 1), maybe that's part of the problem.

Our now-2+-year-old still doesn't like a lot of meat, but he absolutely loves beans and has for over a year. (He carries cans of beans around the house asking us to give him some.) So you might try that. Eggs are also a great source of protein for kids over age one -- scrambled eggs are very popular with ours.

It seems to me that weight loss should be the focus here, and, to my admittedly limited knowledge of nutrition, protein only plays part of the role. I think your baby may need a more thorough examination, or maybe even a new doctor. Identifying too much breast milk as a problem seems really backward to me. Letitia

I'm sure many people will respond to this one. How can a 1 yr old be affected deleteriously by breast milk. Why would anyone tell a mom to cut back and substitute other forms of protein when the result is that the child is losing weight???

If your child likes breast milk and you feel OK about breastfeeding her it seems like that would be a great source of food. However, I am also very curious about what is happening at feeding time. There may be some subtle or not so subtle power struggles around food happening and it's very hard to know if that's happening when you're in the middle of it.

Anyway, I always found at that age that it worked pretty well to be prepared to offer several different kinds of food and learned to deal with the rejection of my homecooked meals in favor of, sayy, fishsticks. (It seems like kids are naturally drawn to foods with a lot of fat). Foods that my daughter liked (and some are foods I didn't think I would ever give my child...) are:
hamburgers cut up with catsup fishsticks with catsup tuna with or without mayo peanut butter with apple slices on crackers yogurt ice cream spagetti with meat sauce string cheese feta cheese raisins in a bowl canned pears with cottage chees plain cottage cheese

She made it through her entire 2nd year on those foods plus lots and lots of fruit and juice pops. One way my one year old really liked to eat with me is when I made it fun. Sometimes I would tell her we were going to have a picnic and would put everything on a towel on the floor. Sometimes I would invite a doll to eat with us and show the doll how nicely we could eat (the doll would always have terrible manners...). Melanie

Re: Protein and the one-year old. My son, now two, eats nothing with iron or protein. He'll eat some cheese, but spurns meat, fish, chicken most of the time, hot dogs, noodles, chinese food, even scrambled eggs. He drinks too many bottles. But he will eat pizza, and he seems willing to mtry foods my husband acts real enthuisiastic, french fries and soda. Yet at the Sizzler he'll eat the meatballs with gusto, and when they had macaroni and cheese he's eat that. So try taking your child to restaurants. My son would try anything and eat many things at one year to about 18 months and then became picky to this day. Sometimes he'll try something if another peer is eating it; and as a result, he eats Danimal yogurt..the little containers with dinosaurs. I'm eager to hear other replies, including what happens if you cut back on the bottles. Right now it's a constant battle and a constant concern, as I can't afford to take him to restaurants, and I think that's a silly strategy. He won't eat any babyfood anymore either. I always put a portion of what I'm eating in front of him, but it's hard to evern figure out exaclty when he's hungry. Too soon, the food goes cold and is unwanted. T oo late (meaning when he's hungry) and he only wants his bottle. Wendy

A Few things: 1) There is no such thing as too much breast milk (except in the _extremely rare_ case of breastmilk jaundice which obviously isn't the case here). In the first year, solids are mostly for baby to experiment with and learn, her main source of nutrition at that time should be breast milk, not solids. Breast milk contains just the right amount of protein, iron, and other nutrients and they are in a form that is most easily digested and utilised by your child. If your daughter wasn't hungry after drinking breastmilk that means she got what she needed.
2) The so-called growth charts that doctors use are completely irrelevant when it comes to breastfed babies. They are the result of data compiled on white formula-fed babies in the midwest from the 1940's through the 1970's when the composition of formula was greatly different than it is today. There is talk about researching new growth charts for breastfed babies but so far it's just talk.
3) Breastfed babies tend to gain weight much faster in the beginning and then to slow down substantially (as compared to formula fed babies). Since this seems to be what is happening to your daughter, she's probably right on target. As long as her motor skills are developing, I wouldn't worry.
4) In the second year of life, babies gain very little weight and sometimes even lose a little. They basically grow taller and thinner utilizing the baby fat they stored up in the first year. As they get mobile and start running around, they thin down.
5) There's a phenomenon called catching down which is occurring more often these days. Babies are born bigger today than before mostly due to improved nutrition in today's mothers. After some time, these babies eventually catch down to their genetically determined size. If mom and dad are small people then a drop on the charts shouldn't be a source of worry.
6) If you have concerns about your daughter's diet, talk to a nutritionist rather than a pediatrician.
7) In my opinion, the best thing to do at this point is to make nutritional food available to her and let her eat what and when she wants. This will teach her how to eat until she's full and then stop. I recall reading about one study (don't quote me on this), where children who were given their choice of several foods to eat would rotate what they ate. In other words, they would eat the same type of food for a few days and then switch, as if they knew whether their body needed carbohydrates, fat, protein, etc. You've accomplished the biggest hurdle for a parent in that your daughter likes vegetables-- congratulations! If you obsess about getting her to eat more then she will start eating in order to please you and not because she's hungry. This, I think, is more dangerous in the long run. and finally, to answer your question:
8) The best sources of protein are protein complements such as rice and beans. Since most seeds are chokables, that leaves you with whole grains and legumes. Earth's Best Lentil and Rice dinner was one of my son's favorites. Nowadays he loves stir-fry with tofu and Indian dishes such as chana masala. Hope this helps, Sophie

Regarding how to get a one-year-old to get protein: when my daughter was about 12 months, the doctor said she was anemic. We also get WIC coupons due to her being a fost-adopt child, so I talked with the WIC dietican and the doctor. Both felt that she was getting too many bottles and not enough chicken, fish, etc. (iron-rich foods) and that might be part of why she was anemic. This was mysterious to me, since the formula is iron-fortified. The WIC person was emphatic that she Should Be Weaned, the doctor much more of the tone that mmm, try to get her to eat a bit more chicken and here, give her iron drops for 3 months.

There are, evidently, now Federal Guidelines saying Babies Should Be Weaned By Twelve Months. (Yes, the tone is ALL CAPS.) The WIC person showed them to me. The daycare center showed them to me. Day care took her off her day-time bottle in (to my mind) a very abrupt and uncermonious manner ... basically in a day's time ... at 14 months. Federal Guidelines, they intoned. The only result of this seemed to be that, when she was finished with her night-time bottle, she insisted on clutching the empty bottle in her arms all night long instead of letting me take it to the sink to be washed. If I tried to remove it, she woke up sobbing for bah although she was quite cheery and flexible in the daylight world. So the bed smelled vaguely of milk about 3 months, until she was finally ready to go back to sleeping with her teddy bear instead of her bottle.

She seemed to eat just as much before her day-time weaning as before, and the only thing that helped the anemia was iron drops. She only eats about 2 out of every 3 meals, routinely, and it just doesn't bother me.

There are fads among scientists just as surely as among dress designers. No one likes to admit it (certainly not scientists) but there are. A current fad is All Babies Must Be Weaned By Twelve Months.

In among all this silliness, my baby's doctor was actually much more middle-of-the road, calm and sensible, and able to help with the *particular situation,* not General Guidelines. I agree with the folk who recommended getting a second doctor's opinion. -- Mary Carol Mary Carol

Regarding protein for a 1 year old Our daughter was born prematurely and has always been off the growth charts, so eating well has always been an issue for me (not her). We could get her to eat fish, like butterfish, sauted with flavorings like garlic, soy sauce. Also tofu was eaten if thrown into soups. At this stage of the game, she is now 4, she will eat meat if soft enough. So I will cook chicken thighs until very soft, or port tenderloin which is soft and easy to chew. We don't eat much beef, but sometimes I will make meatballs and add breadcrumbs to make them soft, or meatloaf with extra breadcrumbs. I don't know if this will help, but I know how the eating issue makes some of us crazy. Good luck, Denise

Our son had a similar problem where he didn't get enough iron when we stopped giving him formula. Since the highest concentration of iron is usually meat - this might also help in increasing the protein intake. Our pediatrician suggested having a supply of cooked, ground beef and/or pureed spinach then adding it to every dish we gave to our son. Since he also loved to eat pasta, crackers or any other starches, we would just put this mixture inside, on-top, under and all over so that he couldn't separate it. This works very well with spaghetti sauce which was a favorite. You could also try mashed tofu, pureed beans. Good luck. Katherine

My 2.5 year-old has been pretty picky since he gave up baby food, but one protein that looks a lot like bread to him is French toast. Good luck. Andrea

Thanks to all of your wonderful and helpful suggestions, my little daughter has gained back 8 oz. since her last checkup and seems well on her way to gaining more weight. I've used all of your eating ideas and the variety seems to suit her fine. The support from all of you made me feel better too. Margaret