As a parent, you’ve perhaps been enjoying watching your baby become a happy, joyful eater. But suddenly, as your baby crosses their 1-year milestone, this changes. Now, your toddler is eating poorly, being picky, or simply refusing some meals. It’s natural to be confused by this drop in your child’s appetite.
While it can be frustrating or alarming, your baby's loss of appetite is a normal part of their development. This phase is common; it affects approximately 25-35% of toddlers and preschoolers! There are physiological changes and growth-related reasons for your baby's changing eating habits as they become a toddler. We'll discuss these reasons later, but now, let's look at the signs that show your baby is eating less.
Common Signs of a Drop in Your Toddler’s Appetite
- Your child may start turning their head away from food.
- They may resist coming to the table and sitting down for meals.
- Even foods they once loved may be refused or not enjoyed fully.
- They may be easily distracted and have difficulty sitting at the table for more than a few minutes.
- They may only eat if they are spoon-fed by a parent.
As long as your child maintains normal energy levels and continues to grow as expected, their decreased appetite is likely a natural part of their development.
Reasons for Drop in Appetite Post 1 Year
Several factors contribute to the drop in appetite in toddlers after they turn 1:
1) Decreased growth rate: Toddlers don't need as many calories as babies because their rapid growth slows down after the first year. During the first year, babies triple their birth weight and grow consistently. However, after turning one, their growth rate decreases, with an average yearly weight gain of 2 kilograms. This reduced growth rate leads to a decrease in appetite.
A child's appetite is mainly controlled by their brain's appetite center. Babies are intuitive eaters, and consume what they need for their growth and development. Also, toddlers with smaller bodies will likely require less food.
2) Development of preferences: As babies grow, they start forming their own likes and dislikes. They also become more active, making it challenging to keep them still during meals.
All these changes can lead to periods of picky eating and fluctuations in their appetite. This is a typical part of their development, but it can be worrisome for parents. It's tough when your once eager eater becomes more selective.
Many parents worry about their child's nutrition and resort to pressuring them to eat. However, forcing them to eat will only make things worse.
Remember, children's appetites can be unpredictable in their early years. Even if they eat varying amounts throughout the day, their total energy intake tends to even out over the week. Healthy children can balance their energy needs when they're offered a variety of nutritious foods.
3) Fear of new foods: After their first year, toddlers often enter a phase called "neophobia," where they become hesitant to try new and unfamiliar foods. Neophobia means they may be reluctant to eat these new foods. However, if we consistently offer them these foods multiple times without pressure, it can help ease their fears.
4) Excessive intake of beverages and sweets: When your toddler consumes beverages, juices, or sweets between meals, it can reduce their appetite and displace nutrient-rich and calorie-rich foods that are essential to their wellbeing.
5) Attention-seeking behavior: Some children may refuse food as a way to seek attention.
6) Inappropriate feeding techniques: Feeding techniques like scolding, pleading, punishment, threatening, bribing, or distracting can lead to a drop in appetite and negative associations with mealtime. This behavior is best avoided by parents and caregivers who are handling the child’s mealtimes.
7) Learning by watching: Toddlers at this stage are like little sponges, soaking up everything they see around them. If they observe another family member or sibling refusing to eat a certain food, they might imitate that behavior.
8) Mealtime atmosphere: A positive mealtime atmosphere can influence children’s eating behavior. Pleasant mealtimes with engaging conversations and avoiding pressure tactics can encourage a healthy approach to eating.
How Can You Navigate This Phase Better?
Remember, food refusals in toddlers post-1 year are common and generally resolve with a consistent mealtime routine and healthy eating patterns. Following are some tips you can try to manage this phase of your toddler’s life.
1) Pinpoint the root cause: Address the root cause of food refusal by using the above reasons as a guide. For example, if constant snacking is the issue, reduce or limit the number of snacks between meals to ensure your child arrives at mealtime hungry. Avoid juices or beverages that fill them up, so they have a better appetite for the main meals.
2) Let your toddler decide: Give your child control over how much they eat at home. Your job as a parent is to provide nutritious meals. Trust that your child's brain will guide them to consume the right amount of calories for energy and growth. Stick to mealtime schedules without pressuring them to eat.
3) Encourage self-feeding: Allowing your child to engage with their meal by self-feeding can help them focus on eating. Avoid running behind your little one to feed them.
4) Limit milk intake: Keep milk consumption to just 500 ml per day. Excessive milk can reduce appetite and hinder iron absorption.
5) Serve small portions: Offer smaller servings of food, even if it seems less than what you think they should eat. Big portions can be daunting for little ones. Sometimes, if they see a huge portion, they might lose their appetite. Start with less, and refill as they finish.
6) Encourage family meals: Have meals together as a family to give toddlers a positive social experience. They can watch and learn from others and feel like part of the grown-up mealtime. Children enjoy the company of family members, so try to have family meals when you can.
7) Create pleasant mealtimes: Keep mealtime conversations cheerful and engaging. Avoid power struggles, bribing, or threats, as they create negative feelings about food. Research shows that forcing children to eat results in them eating less. Instead, make mealtimes enjoyable. Share a joke or make your toddler laugh. This will make meals a happier experience, and your child will come willingly.
8) Avoid distractions: Keep away toys, books, TV, tablets, and phones during meals. Mealtimes are for talking and connecting with your child. Encourage them to bond with other family members and focus on the food. Encourage them to eat mindfully, staying in the moment. Show them by your example and let them learn from watching you and other grown-ups.
9) Keep mealtimes short: Meals for toddlers should last about 15-20 minutes. Do not prolong mealtimes in the hope that they will eat more.
10) Avoid medications and special formulas: Unless advised by a healthcare professional, avoid using medications, special formulas, supplements, or appetite stimulants.
Food refusals in 1-year-old toddlers are common and usually resolve on their own within a few weeks if you maintain a consistent mealtime routine.
However, if you notice signs of your child's health being affected, such as frequent illness, inadequate weight gain (as per the growth chart: click here for a recap), or issues like gagging or vomiting during meals, it's wise to consult your doctor.