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Feeding Skills for Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers

Healthy child development includes progressive mastery of feeding skills. At 6 to 12 months, infants may start grasping food with hands and use lips to eat food from a spoon. By 16 to 17 months, toddlers should be able to transfer their food from a bowl to the mouth. By 2 years, your toddler should be consuming close to an adult diet with the exception of foods that have a potential for choking, such as small, round or hard foods. Make sure you are supervising your toddler during the eating process.

You may notice that the growth rate and appetite of your child decrease after the 1st year. Toddlers may eat varying quantities of food from meal to meal. Normal feeding behaviours include playing with foods and resistance to trying new foods. They may choose to eat from a small group of accepted favourite foods. You may need to offer a new food several times before conclusion of rejection. Other skills to acquire during the second year include drinking from a cup. You should try to wean your baby off the bottle around 12 to 15 months. By 15 months, your child should be able to hold and drink from a cup, with complete transition by 2 years.

Between the ages of 3 to 4 years, your preschoolers should be able to use utensils and sit at the table with you for meals. They are aware of their feeding environment and follow cues that will affect their feeding preferences and eating behaviours. While their attention span may occasionally affect their ability to sit at the dinner table, you should still encourage your child to sit for a limited period of time, like 15 to 20 minutes. This will allow them to see caregivers model healthy eating behaviours. Avoid distractions at the dinner table, including television and toys.

Beware that these are only guidelines and each child will progress through the stages at different rates. Patience will encourage
positive development. If you have concerns or questions about your child’s eating patterns or behaviours contact your doctor.

Becky Biqi Chen was a resident in general pediatrics for three years at the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre. She is currently specializing in pediatric gastroenterology during her fellowship at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital.


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