Q: My daughter is 17 and a half months old and hasn't been eating lunch for at least a month. She will eat breakfast and supper though. So in the middle of the day I give her healthy snacks. Is she OK? What can I do to get her to eat lunch?
A: During the toddler years, children often develop rather erratic eating behaviors. They’re so busy at this stage of life that they often feel that they far more interesting things to do than eat! It’s wonderful that she’s eating breakfast and supper, and her nutritious, mid-day snack might serve as a suitable “lunch.”
Remember, growth for toddlers normally occurs at a much slower pace than it did during infancy. Because they’re growing so rapidly during infancy, babies spend much of their time eating. A slower rate of growth explains why many toddlers seem to have less than hearty appetites and display less interest in food and eating. This causes many moms to worry that their children aren’t getting enough to eat.
As mothers, our job is to provide our children a variety of wholesome, nutritious foods at meals and snacks in a relaxed, comfortable environment. The decision about whether to eat at a particular time belongs to your daughter. By allowing her to respond to her own internal cues of hunger and satiety, she’ll develop a healthy attitude toward food and eating. Forcing children to eat when they don’t feel hungry, on the other hand, increases the risk that they’ll develop unhealthy eating behaviors.
It’s wise to continue to serve your daughter a nutritious breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus at least two snacks each day. Sit down at the table with your daughter and eat your meal with her. Ask her to remain at the table—even if she says she’s not hungry—for at least a few minutes. When children know that they have to sit down for a meal, and when they see their parents or siblings enjoying the food that you’ve prepared, they’re more likely to eat.
The best way to determine if your daughter is getting enough to eat is to check with your pediatrician to make sure that she’s growing and gaining weight at an appropriate rate. If she is, you can relax and enjoy these busy toddler years!