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The 12-Month Milk-to-Food Transition

Feb29

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Hi Amy!!

Love your blog/column! I am really having a hard time with something and I am hoping you and your readers can help. Here goes!

My baby (toddler, I guess, now?) just turned 12 months old. We have two problems with food:

1) Too much milk. He’d been taking in 35oz of breastmilk, plus solid food. (I exclusively pumped and am weaning myself from the pump now, and he is starting cows’ milk without issues. Right now we are at half breast milk and half cows’ milk in each sippy cup, and we are gradually increasing the cows’ milk.) At his 12 month appointment, his doctor said that he should be drinking no more than 20oz of milk. We are starting to reduce the amount of milk, but we know we need to get more solid food in him, then. Which brings us to:

2) Struggling with self-feeding. He put a puff in his own mouth using his own hands for the first time 4 days after his first birthday. I just about held a ticker tape parade, I was so excited. I had been spending dinner time for the past few months demonstrating eating Cheerios and he. just. would. not. do. it. Now that he has the idea, we are practicing at every meal with things that are easy for him to hold onto and aim at his mouth (like toddler biscuits). The thing is that he’s pretty picky. Generally if I give him something that is not a toddler biscuit or cracker-like carb (I have tried scrambled eggs, pieces of cheese, meat, fruit, etc.) he will cry and/or pick it up, throw it on the floor, and watch the dog eat it. I will put about 10 things on his tray (one at a time) and encourage him to eat it at every meal. After it’s all on the floor (and the dog is full to bursting), I go ahead and feed him whatever baby food he’ll eat to fill him up. (So – back to number 1 – that he won’t need so much milk.)

If he were a 7 or 8 month old baby who was learning to self-feed, I think this would be pretty simple – offer him a few things, let him self-feed, and if he doesn’t go for it, no big deal. Before one food is just for fun, and it’s breastmilk or formula that is important, right? Except he IS one. I feel like the goals of self feeding and less milk are both very important but sort of at odds with each other – if I don’t feed him baby food AND I limit the milk, what do I do when he’s hungry? Put him in the high chair (regardless of the time) and attempt to feed him? Deal with him being very unhappy until the next meal? What about when he wakes up starving in the middle of the night (this happens when he doesn’t eat enough during the day, otherwise he sleeps through the night)?

Other facts that might be important – he is a good size (25.5 pounds, proportional height) and is meeting most other milestones. I just gave him the 12mo Ages and Stages questionnaire and he seems slightly behind in Language and Personal-Social but on track/ahead everywhere else.

Please help me! I have no idea what I’m doing and I feel like I’m doing everything wrong.

Thanks!

Okay, the very first thing you do — THE VERY FIRST THING — is skeedaddle over to Amazon to buy this book, a book I have mentioned before but there is seriously no better resource for picky eaters and their overwhelmed parents: How To Get Your Kid To Eat…But Not Too Much, by Ellyn Satter. Honestly, I think everybody should read this book before even starting solid food with a baby so you’ll know exactly what feeding pitfalls to avoid. Because oh, those pitfalls are soooo easy to fall ass-over-teakettle into.

Basically any and all advice I can offer is cribbed directly from this book, but I promise it is 100% totally worth buying because it will become your Mealtime Bible for many ages and stages to come. Whenever I sense the wheels starting to come off around here in regards to one of the boys’ behavior at the table, I go back to this book for a gentle reminder to stop doing whatever it is that I’m doing that has once again allowed the Food Battles to creep back into our lives. You will never, ever change your kids’ desire to exert arbitrary and game-like control over what they eat, but you can absolutely change the fact that you’re unintentionally playing along.

So, let’s Satter-up your concerns here:

1) Too much milk. Indeed, this is a big one. It’s super-important to remember that cow’s milk is NOT the same, nutritionally speaking, as breastmilk. So there’s no reason to make a bottle-for-cup even switch. Yes, it’s got calcium and vitamin D and fats and calories, but it should absolutely not be the cornerstone of your child’s diet. Too much dairy fat is not good for little hearts, it can be hella constipating, and yes, it’s really, really filling and satisfying. I know it feels like a Catch-22: You don’t want to cut back on the milk until he’s eating more solids, but he probably won’t be hungry or willing to try more solids until you cut back on the milk. Again (BROKEN RECORD), Satter’s book goes into a more detail about the too-much-milk-and-juice pitfall and how to best avoid it. Offer milk in a cup at meal/snacktimes only, with water in between. I promise you he won’t starve and/or collapse into a pile of undernourished, powdery bones if you cut back to 20 ounces a day. (My pediatrician insisted on no more than 16 ounces for toddlers, so hey! He’ll get four whole more ounces than my poor kids did.)

2) Too much pressure! Just reading about your mealtimes sounds exhausting, and it probably is, for both of you. Ten different food items, even one at a time, is way, WAY too many. That’s an overwhelming number of options, and toddlers don’t need every meal to be a buffet. By taking away rejected foods and immediately offering something else, you’re short-order cooking for him, and letting him know that you don’t actually expect him to eat any of this stuff.

(And even if he WAS sampling even half of those options, fast-forward a year or two and try to imagine the reaction you’ll get when you want/need to cook ONE meal for everybody and put that ONE option in front of a kid who is accustomed to at least a dozen to pick-and-choose from.)

Self-feeding is half observation, half instinct, but either way the non-stop Cheerio demonstrations are not necessary. Your son likely just thinks you’re either playing a weird, uninteresting game with him…or he’s sensing the pressure to self-feed when he doesn’t want to self-feed for whatever reason. (He’s overwhelmed by the options, he’s holding out for milk or purees, he’s just not that hungry.) Your job is to put food in front of him. It is his job to eat it. Yes, even after 12 months, even after weaning, even with less milk than before.

So edit down the offerings — waaaay down. Start feeding him what you are eating, or make him a finger-food meal of no more than three, maybe four things. (Protein, grain, fruit/vegetable, milk.) Put the food on his tray at the same time and…you’re done. The end. Back off. No frantic hovering and “HERE COMES THE AIRPLANE, NO? OKAY, HOW ABOUT THIS? OR THIS! YAAAAYYYYY YOU TOUCHED A PEA CLAP CLAP CLAP!”

Eat with him. Family meals do make a huge difference, and will be more effective than a million pincher-grasp demonstrations. If you’re skipping breakfast and waiting until naptime for your lunch, change that and make those meals social and pleasant, together. (And not like a singularly focused feeding boot camp.) If he refuses to touch anything, keep him in his seat until you’re done eating and have him “keep you company.” Spoon-feeding purees after 12 months is…eh, I dunno. I certainly spoon-fed yogurt, soup or applesauce as part of a meal to my non-utensil-users, but offer them at the same time as the finger foods — not as a last-resort, stressed-out concession at the end. (He’ll know to wait for it!)

I swear to God, he’s not going to starve. He’s not going to fall off the growth chart. Toddlers in general eat VERY LITTLE, and they eat it very sporadically, but they 100% can self-regulate their intake. Schedule regular, set snacktimes in between meals — I’m not a fan of grazing buffets in between meals but we do have a morning and afternoon snack that is also eaten at the table. Toddlers and little kids need snacks, for sure. This SHOULD take care of the going-to-bed hungry thing because at SOME POINT, he’ll stop skipping feeding opportunities and eat. It might take awhile. There might be some anger and crankiness as he fights the all-milk diet change, but again: HE WILL NOT STARVE. (And like sleep, good eating habits and attitudes about food are so, so (sososo) important, and worth it in the end.)

3) The texture/motor skill issue. I think I sense an unspoken third worry at the end of your letter — that his refusal to self-feed and pickiness is a sign of sensory delays or some other out-of-the-ordinary problem.

My dear friend went through a health scare recently and her doctor gave her the best analogy I think I have ever heard: “When you hear the beating of hoofs on the street outside your door, you think horses, not zebras.” Right now, sensory problems and the like are the zebras. Correctable feeding/mealtime problems are the horses.

Noah was — and is — my pickiest eater, yes. Noah had sensory/texture issues and oral/fine motor delays, yes. I also made a TON of mistakes when it came to feeding him as a toddler because I didn’t know any better. I short-order cooked, I begged, I pressured, I got annoyed, I bribed and bargained. I tried to shove a spoon in his mouth thinking that if he just TASTED it, he’d LIKE it. I gave in and catered to his food whims meal after meal and fed him a lot of packaged, processed garbage because it said “BABY” or “TODDLER” on the package and all sorts of other things that I now cringe just thinking about.

Then I bought Satter’s book on the recommendation of…well, EVERYBODY. Blog readers, friends, his speech therapist, etc. We went cold turkey into her Division of Responsibility plan (my job = buy, prepare, serve food. his job: eating it, full stop.)  It was hard, since he was over two years old and established in his unbearable pickiness. He skipped meal after meal in protest. One day he drank a glass of milk and a yogurt smoothie and that was it. And then the next meal he ate spaghetti and meatballs WITH SAUCE and then fish and rice for dinner. The next day he went back to Cheerios for breakfast and refusing everything else. And I refused to care, and that child is still 90th percentile for height and a perfect 50th for weight. He is still picky, yes, but not THAT picky. (I’d say he’s probably a fair-to-average eater now, and is only “picky” when compared to his little brothers, who are both AMAZING eaters. Ike, too, has suddenly come alive with the joy of EATING ALL THE THINGS.)

Since I see a lot of small things you can change about your mealtimes — you’re putting sooo much pressure on yourself (and indirectly, on him), so Change #1 should be a deep breath and a step back — I wouldn’t be calling up the occupational therapist just yet. If you can’t let go of the worry, by all means try some fun sensory-based activities with him. Let him play with “weird” textures like Play-Doh, shaving/whipped cream, and containers of dry rice/beans. Hide small toys inside and have him dig them out. Likewise, have him practice his pincher grasp with non-food items — play along but don’t hover and pressure him. Keep it relaxed and low-key and fun. For his mouth, get him a battery-powered toothbrush and let him play with it. (If he’s reluctant to put it in his mouth, let him put it in yours.) Switch to sippy cups with straws for maximum oral-motor-pre-speech-muscle development.

(And seriously, buy Satter’s book. It will CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Or at least, make your life feel a lot less stressful and focused on the capricious, evil whims of a toddler’s eating quirks.)

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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21 Responses to “The 12-Month Milk-to-Food Transition”

  1. c Feb 29 at 1:31 pm Reply Reply

    Not to detract from your love for your pediatrician, but that horses/zebra adage is an old, widely-quoted doctor phrase. In fact, it’s so commonly known that when you are looking for weird diagnoses to complete your thought process on a particular patient, you might legitimately say: “Let’s think of some zebras now.” Only after reading your post did I realize that this could be a completely weird thing to say. 

  2. Carrie Feb 29 at 1:40 pm Reply Reply

    I just wanted to chime in and remind you that not every kid follows the text book developmental milestones. My daughter was like your son. I was totally freaking out and thinking she had sensory disorders or something. She didn’t eat anything solid until she turned 15 months old. Then suddenly she started eating solids. She still refuses to eat any typical “kid” foods like chicken nuggets or mac and cheese. I have a very picky older son, so it really never occurred to me to give her the food my husband I were eating. But that’s what she wanted. She is now 22 months and eats any thing that my husband and I put our our plate (she just won’t eat it from her plate). Curry, hummus, steak, salsa. You name it she’ll eat it. Kids are weird.

  3. Kari Feb 29 at 1:47 pm Reply Reply

    Question for those of you who have read Satter’s books. How to Get Your Kid to Eat says it will take 1-3 months to be delivered from Amazon, and my public library doesn’t have it. Is one of her others comparable? Or is How to Get Your Kid to Eat the very best one?

    • J Feb 29 at 6:37 pm Reply Reply

      You can buy a used copy — go to the Amazon page and look to the right of the screen, you might have to scroll down a bit. Third party sellers are selling them too, cheaper than Amazon’s copy (though used), and they ship much more quickly.

      • Kim Mar 01 at 3:25 pm Reply Reply

        I’d also check kid’s consignment shops – I’ve seen a copy or two there. BarnesandNoble.com has it, too.

  4. Olivia Feb 29 at 1:59 pm Reply Reply

    I think I need to check out that book, and then prepare myself to be embarrassed at all the mistakes I’ve made. *sigh* Anyway, I do want to say that just because your son is now 12 months doesn’t mean he (or you) needs to have this eating thing all figured out. If you are still breastfeeding at all, he’ll be okay.

  5. Hillary Feb 29 at 2:26 pm Reply Reply

    We ended up with noticeable dog weight gain when my baby started eating and had to have our vet tell us that letting the dog clean up the floor was irresponsible pet ownership. Embarrassing and true. Just my $0.02 to put your dog away at mealtimes. He’s probably distracting your child, too, but mostly do it for your dog. Putting a dog on a diet/getting him more exercise when you’re dealing with a baby/toddler is NOT WORTH IT. :)

  6. Kate F. Feb 29 at 2:57 pm Reply Reply

    Kari- I ordered the “wrong” Satter book, and got Child of Mine instead of the Get Your Kid to Eat book (which I am also trying to order). Child of mine is GREAT, and the feeding stuff is all in there, it’s just buried a bit. I think the eating book might be a streamlined version of her hefty masterwork. It has chapters for all the ages, though, and goes through everything Amy talked about here. Give that a shot while you wait!

    And Amy, YAY Satter! I’m always thrilled when I see people talking her up, because I feel like almost no one I know has heard of her, and so many of them short-order cook and bribe and beg and gaaaaah, I was getting so stressed about food with my toddler until I read her. I’m still not 100% adhering to her method because we simply can’t do family dinner right now, timing-wise (sigh), but I believe in it all firmly and have ended up putting T to bed without a bite of dinner a few times. Sure enough, he slept fine and woke up hungry but TOTALLY ALIVE, guys.

    One thing I love that Satter talks about a lot (in addition to the simple brilliance of the responsibilities) is the “toddler barely eat” thing. She has tallied the calories over a period of time and even when the parents insist the child is literally eating three bites of cheese one day and two crackers the next, they get what they need. She also emphasizes that dinner is often not a huge meal for this age; breakfast may be the main meal, or lunch, but by the end of the day they’re tired, they’ve had meals and snacks all day, and sometimes they’re just not that hungry. Hard for us to wrap our heads around since dinner is the “important” meal for most of us.

  7. IrishCream Feb 29 at 5:16 pm Reply Reply

    Another voice to add to the Satter-love! I haven’t read her other books, but “Child of Mine” seemed very comprehensive to me (and arrived in two days via Amazon). One thing I found very reassuring was her chart of toddler serving sizes–they’re measured in tablespoons! I think of a piece of toast as a single serving of grains, but for a toddler it could equal three or four servings. Remembering that helps me to not stress or coax when my daughter eats four bites of dinner and pushes her plate away. I know right now it seems like your son will never even eat four bites, but odds are that this is a phase that he will grow out of quickly, especially when mealtime becomes less of a pressure cooker for you both. Good luck!

  8. Jill Feb 29 at 9:27 pm Reply Reply

    All sound advice. One other thing that helped me to get our two older ones to try new food was to casually put it on the highchair tray while I was busy in the kitchen. Then I’d get right back to being busy. Keeping myself busy helped me to hover / stress less and in turn, baby didn’t feel stress vibes from me and was more likely to try the food. I would have to mentally prepare myself for an easy breezy “whatever” reaction if the food wasn’t touched on a given day. I know it goes against the advice to have family dinner, but this definitely helped us when we tried it.

  9. Jadzia@Toddlerisms Mar 01 at 7:31 am Reply Reply

    Another Satter-lover here!  I think of her as the “feeding without guilt” guru.  At this point, I basically tell myself that it’s really, really unlikely that my kids will become malnourished and more often than not their diet balances out over time, so I try not to look at their food choices within each self-contained meal as much as over a longer period of time.  One of my kids still has Dinner Drama–but as much as I love him, I know that if it wasn’t drama over dinner, it would be drama over something else with him, and this too shall pass.  I hope.

  10. Nikasha Mar 01 at 10:43 am Reply Reply

    Personally, I don’t understand why babyfoods/purees have been taken off the table. If the self-feeding is a completely new skill you’re working on, why not feed a puree along with maybe 2 options of things he can try self feeding at each meal? It’s not like there is a switch that goes off at age one for all or nothing milk/solids. If you let yourself relax and view it as a more gradual transition, things might happen more naturally.

    And, I agree with Hillary above, keep the dog away while baby’s eating.

  11. Laura Mar 01 at 2:06 pm Reply Reply

    Not to bring up any zebras, but if your child continues to prefer wheat-based carbs over time, it could be a sign of gluten intolerance/celiac disease. Please don’t worry about this right now, but it’s just a heads up to keep an eye on his pickiness if it doesn’t seem to get better as he develops.

  12. Suzy Q Mar 01 at 2:54 pm Reply Reply

    Half.com is also a good source for books.  Good luck!

    • Suzanne Mar 01 at 3:26 pm Reply Reply

      Laura, if the child has gluten intolerance they would prefer less wheat, not more… 

      Gluten is mostly found in wheat, barley and a few other grains. 

      • Jennifer Mar 02 at 6:34 pm Reply Reply

        It is common for people who have sensitivities/intolerances to various foods to actually crave what they can’t tolerate. Wheat is included in that.

  13. AmyRenee Mar 01 at 3:33 pm Reply Reply

    if he loves “cracker-like carbs” try smearing your purees ON the cracker. My son would eat ANYTHING smeared on toast – hummus, veggie puree, you name it. I would take a hand blender & mix up whatever we were eating (often chicken & a veggie, plus a little rice to thicken to a paste), then smear it on the toast. Also, if you can, plant a few veggies this spring and let him eat them straight off the plant (or cut in pieces straight fom the plant). My son LOVES to eat veggies from “his” garden, and when you eat outside it’s far less mess. You can also try gradually making his cups of milk smaller, instead of skipping cups.

  14. Antra Mar 02 at 3:12 am Reply Reply

    “YOU TOUCHED A PEA!! CLAP CLAP CLAP”

    Gold to Amalah for funny.

  15. Emily Mar 02 at 5:59 pm Reply Reply

    Great advice.. except the book, because I don’t know the book, so I can’t say.

    It’s not like they ‘over night’ need to switch at 12months. My daughter was eating solids since 7/8 months and didn’t switch until after a year old to wanting actual solids at mealtimes. She was great at self-feeding, but she stil wanted liquid nourishment primarily. Then, it was like a switch went off in her head and she…. switched. but I totally agree with AmyRenee – smear those purees on crunchy things. My kiddo has always loved crunching :) Also, maybe put a kabosh on the bland stuff. Babies do like flavor. Offer something flavorful and your baby might start stuffing their mouth. Parsnips were huge in this house. Such a strong smell and strong flavor – she couldn’t get enough of them. Puree’d or steamed for her to chew on.

  16. Amy J Mar 12 at 7:38 am Reply Reply

    This is timely. I have a toddler that would eat anything. And then she needed surgery and we had to go back to full liquids. We are now back to pureed stage and working up. Since I had never had to deal with pickiness (sorry) or food refusal, the fact she currently is POed at me all the time about food has been really stressing us. THANKS!

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