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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

Q:  I have a 9-month-old daughter who used to eat anything, but now when I try to feed her vegetables she clamps her lips shut, cries and pushes the spoon away.  When we give her fruit or open the Cheerios box, all of sudden her legs start kicking, her eyes get wide, and she opens her mouth as wide as can be.  What can I do to make sure she has a well-balanced diet and eats the veggies?  Every mealtime is turning into a huge battle and my husband and I are getting so frustrated with feeding her.

A:  Have no fear. There are so many babies who do this, and so many parents who worry about it!  I consulted with several pediatricians about what parents should do in this situation and here’s what they tell me:  Your baby will be just fine.  She is getting all the nutrients and calories she needs from fruits, cereal and milk (be it breast or formula.) 

So you don’t have to worry about your daughter’s physical health.  In fact, her behavior is actually letting you know that she is doing very well in many key areas of her development. She knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and is able to effectively communicate that to you. When you read and respond to her cues—by not forcing her to eat what she is telling you she doesn’t want—you are teaching her that her feelings are important, and that she is a good communicator.  This helps build her self-esteem and encourages her to develop good language skills as she grows.

What is important is to avoid getting into power struggles about food.  Right now, your daughter may seem like quite a discriminating eater (which accounts for many children. You are not alone!)  This may change as your daughter grows, but she may never be one of those kids who are willing to try everything that comes their way. When parents get anxious that their children are not eating enough, the risk is that they will force the child to eat, which can lead to several problems including:

  • Actually eating less.  Research shows that letting children decide what and how much to eat leads to their eating more than those who are forced to eat a certain amount at meals.
  • Negative impact on the parent-child relationship.  When there are parent-child power struggles around feeding, it is more likely that there will be similar struggles over other issues as the child grows.
  • An increased chance that the child will have food issues later. When parents disregard their child’s cues and force her to eat, she may learn that her feelings are not important, and that she can’t trust her body’s cues.  This can lead to difficulty knowing when she is hungry and full, which can lead to eating disorders and obesity later in life.

So keep doing what you're doing—offering a variety of healthy foods for your daughter to choose from, respecting her likes and dislikes, and letting her decide what and how much to eat.  That's exactly what she needs to thrive.  And, of course, if you have any questions or concerns about her growth, be sure to talk with your health care provider.



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