Sorry, But Your 1-Year-Old Is Not A Good Eater

by Gail Hoffer-Loibl
toddler picky eater
Xavier_S / iStock

My kids and I were enjoying some time at the playground, when as toddlers are prone to do, my oldest began tugging on my shirt and asking for a snack. We found a nearby bench to sit on, and I dug through the endless depths of my bag and found a granola bar (okay, it was really more of a cookie) for my son to eat while I tended to his newborn brother. I was excited to have a break from chasing my kid around and wasn’t sweating my food choices. I even snuck my own bite of that tasty goodness for myself.

Shortly after I sat down, another mom and her daughter (whom I guessed was about 13 months old) took the spot next to me. The mother took out a small metal tin of blueberries and began handing them one by one to her daughter, who eagerly munched away. I smiled at her, which I assume signaled I felt like chatting. I nodded along as this mom gushed over her daughter’s appetite and boasted about all of the wonderful things she consumes. “Oh, little miss chowhound (may or may not have been her real name), she eats all kinds of fruits and vegetables.” Of course, this conversation must take place while my kid is devouring his granola bar cookie snack a mere 2 feet away.

As I politely listened to this woman speak of her daughter’s sophisticated palate, I felt myself beginning to sink into that pit of self-doubt parents know all too well. I wondered how hard this mother was judging me. Did she think all I fed my child was artificially colored, sugary snacks void of any nutrition? I might as well have pulled out a 2-liter of Dr. Pepper and handed my son a straw. If only she could have seen my son when he was her kid’s age, eating fistfuls of spinach and devouring pounds of squash.

I did everything “right” to ensure my son would never become a picky eater. Throughout 20 months of breastfeeding, I remained vigilant about what I put in my body, so that, even through my milk, my son would taste only the most nutritious fare. When I introduced him to solid foods around 6 months, I practiced baby-led weaning, so my little angel’s lips would only touch real, un-pureed food. I would smile as he squealed with delight as he smeared butternut squash all over his face. I exposed him regularly to a variety of healthy edibles, yet I still ended up with a kid who thinks mac and cheese is perfectly acceptable for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I’ve wised-up with my second child, who at 9 months, is just beginning to explore the culinary world beyond Chez Booby. Like most infants, anything he can get his hands on is fair game for consumption. Right now, his favorites include bananas, avocados, and his brother’s toy trains. I am enjoying his discovery of the world via his mouth and am pleased with his voracious appetite, but I will refrain from bragging about it. I know soon enough he may be disgusted by the very things he once enjoyed.

If you are thinking, “That could never be my kid,” just wait. One day your sweet baby will morph into a defiant mini-human with actual opinions. And no matter how strict you are with their diet, chances are you will cave and give them something less than perfect (whatever that means to you). That “special treat” will become the one thing your kid will want to eat for months, until one day (after you’ve purchased a lifetime supply), without warning, it will turn into the vilest thing on the planet.

Yes, there are some toddlers with amazing palates, who actually enjoy eating things that aren’t shaped like mini dinosaurs. But a child just learning what’s edible (Carrots, yay! Phone chargers, not so much) is not a good eater. They are just a normal child discovering the world with their mouth, and pretty much anything is fair game. Why else are we warned about keeping small parts out of their reach?

Once your child is old enough to really discern between food and carpet lint, then their real tastes will emerge. You will inevitably put the wrong colored sauce on their noodles or cut their apples the wrong way. You will lose your mind trying to please this little person. You will likely find yourself fighting at least one battle a week over food, because deciding what they want to eat is a toddler’s way of asserting some control over an uncontrollable world. And, more often than not, you won’t want to fight, or maybe you will have more strength than most and stick to only serving what you want your kid to eat. All the more power to you (and please, share your secret).

But, if your child is still chewing on wires in between chewing on wafers, please refrain from bragging about how well your kid eats, and call me when he’s 2 and eating the prix fixe at The French Laundry.