Dear Is This Normal,
Is it normal that my 2 year old eats more baby food than table food? He’s having a hard time chewing his food and hasn’t moved past purees. What should I do?
Dear Puree Problems,
For something that so many of us do mindlessly (eat!), it sure is a tough thing to navigate as a parent introducing your little one to new foods and flavors and textures, isn’t it?
One thing that makes starting solids at various stages tricky is that there isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong way to go about it. Some parents start with purees while others use baby-led weaning, for example. As long as it’s done safely and babies are getting the nutrients they need, the sky’s the limit! That being said, I can tell that you feel like you’re at an impasse right now, and I sympathize. It’s hard to start something new, and it’s also really hard (maybe harder?) to double back and start over. If your 2 year old only eats pureed food at this stage, it’s definitely time to start the process of transitioning them to table foods, both to help with their skill development and make sure they’re getting the right amounts of nutrition for their growing brain and body. So let’s talk about how to make that happen.
I want to start off by saying that there’s nothing at all wrong with a 2 or 3 year old having purees on occasion or to supplement their diet; plenty of parents use purees as healthy snacks at home and on the go, myself included! My girls still love what they adorably call ‘squeezie snacks’. But something to keep in mind is that the vast majority of baby food purees are designed for babies under 12 months old; nutritionally speaking, rice cereal or fruit purees are not nutritionally dense enough to support the needs of a 2 or 3 year old. While they are a perfectly healthy first food for babies who get the bulk of their nutrients from formula or breast milk, they lack the nutrients, fat, calories, and vitamins and minerals that kids need for brain and physical development as they grow.
The other thing to consider about continuing to offer only purees past 12 months is that there are crucial motor and developmental skills that toddlers develop in large part through the mechanics of eating whole foods. Feeding and fine motor skills go hand-in-hand (or hand in mouth, get it?), and through food, kids learn how to grasp, hold, and self-feed, and also develop bite and chew skills that they’ll use throughout their entire life. Not to mention, early exposure to lots of new foods, flavors and textures has been shown to help make kids more adventurous eaters and can help them skip the picky eating stage altogether. Food is more than just fun—food and feeding are really critical parts of early child development!
So how do you get there! How do you transition your little one from purees to table foods in the toddler years? It’s going to take time and patience, right off the bat. I would encourage you to talk to your pediatrician and ask about being referred to a childhood nutritionist or feeding therapist; you didn’t mention what, if any, feeding skills your kiddo has, but if there are deficits then a therapist can help him catch up. A nutritionist can also help develop a plan in terms of when and how to introduce more nutritionally dense foods. In the meantime, start adding more calories to his purees to make sure he’s getting all his needs met; adding dairy, high-protein grains, and more green veggies is a good start. You can also start experimenting with soft finger foods at home—offer him small pieces one at a time during meal and snack times and let him start exploring.
He may have a bit of catching up to do, but by making a few adjustments to his diet at home and working with your pediatrician and a nutritionist or feeding therapist, he’ll be eating off your plate in no time.
Food for Thought,