Unhealthy Eating Habits of a 13 Month Old?

Updated on September 27, 2008
K.H. asks from Ankeny, IA
22 answers

My daughter is 13 m/o and seems like she may be developing some unhealthy eating habits but I'm not sure a) if she in fact is, and b) if so, how I handle it. Basically she eats like she's feeding a tapeworm :) at least until mealtimes that is. She would carry her snack trap around full of Cherrios or "poofs" and munch all day if I'd let her. She brings it to me when its empty, puts in my lap, says "more" and then starts to cry if I don't get her any. If I do get her some she starts to fuss while I'm filling it like she hasn't eaten in years. But once we sit down to dinner she eats hardly anything before she wants to be "done". I've tried not letting her snack except on certain times on a certain schedule and she gets just bearishly hungry and super cranky!

My concern is that I've heard you really shouldn't limit a baby's food intake or (God forbid) put them on a diet unless doctor recommended (in extreme circumstances of course). But I don't want her to learn to 'graze' on snacks all day and then ignore nutritious and balanced main meals. Any help ladies?

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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone. We do have family meals (in the evening and on weekends - she is at daycare during the day) and no, she is not overweight - she's in the 75th % for both height and weight. Her dad and I are both thin and active, so I don't think she's at a large risk for the road to obesity, but I do want her to eat a more balanced fare. I like the idea of cold chicken or dried fruit - stuff she can have "on the go". I have tried to keep her on a "snack schedule" and do so at her high chair, but since she just learned to walk, she hates taking time out to sit and doesn't eat well when I do that (and then gets hungry and cranky) but perhaps I need to just put my foot down. We'll see how it goes, but regardless we'll stop with the empty calories and start balancing her snacks!

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answers from Eau Claire on

My suggestion is to let her graze on healthy things. Give her fruit, veggies, meat, cheese, etc and not just the starchy stuff. That way if she doesn't eat at meals its not a big deal.

My 13 year old has always been a grazer and is probably more healthy than those of us who sit down and eat regular meals.

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answers from Des Moines on

Instead of just putting her at the table to eat nutritous meals at meal time why not do that before you give her snacks each time she asks for more. That way she gets in the habit of eating when she's at the table, gets to eat when she wants to, and you don't have to worry about her not eating enough good food.

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answers from Duluth on

We let our children graze regularly. My oldest is four and my second is 10 months. Our four year old loves snacking on frozen peas, frozen berries, and mostly other healthy foods. I guess I'd be a little cautious about the heavy duty grains--is she eating those to the exclusion of fruits, veggies, dairy and meats/proteins? If so, then maybe revamping her diet might be in order. My husband and I have a joke--grandma and grandpa on both sides are firm believers in no snacking before dinner, but husband and I look at dinner and go, well, dinner is lasagna, and snack is pure raw veggies...hmmm...what if the snack is actually HEALTHIER than dinner?? Sometimes, too, we know that dinner will be something our kids aren't overly fond of (we always make them sit at the table with us and eat, and they must try things, but we do not set a specific amount they must eat) and those nights we definitely let them snack. Overall, we let them have "goodies" in proportion to what they've eaten--for example, my son had cereal this morning at 7, then wanted a PB &J here at 9:30...and I just gave him four chocolate almonds, since he's definitely eaten well so far today, even though "dessert" at 9:30 isn't normal. Anyway--my boys are both very healthy, very good eaters, and are not overweight at all. My doctor has been very pleased with their eating, so that's what's working for us!

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answers from Wausau on

I am an adult "grazer" and I think some people are just more geared toward snacking or frequent small meals throughout the day. (There are several medical reasons for certain people to do the grazing thing too, but I'm just talking about personal preference and what individual bodies prefer and function best with).

My son (2yrs old) is also a grazer. What I do is try to make sure the snacks are not all from the same food group (or else he'd eat nothing but grains all day long). I try to get a balanced nutritional intake over the course of a day. If he has snacked on cheerios and crackers all morning, for instance, then the next few snacks might be fruit and veges or meat. (I do allow a small amount of carbs with about half of his snacks, since I think we need it to not "crash".)

The other thing you could try is to adjust your mealtimes to better match when your child is usually hungry, and then gradually move the mealtimes back to something normal. That might mean eating lunch at 10am for a few days, then 10:30 etc until you are back on track.

I know you will get advice to make a schedule and stick to it, and judos to you if you do, but I am not one who can do that. It might be the best way, but I have not found it to be a practical way for us. Best luck.

And I agree, not to limit a child's food intake unless the doctor expresses concerns about weight. I believe children know how to listen to their bodies far better than we adults do, and they will tend to eat when hungry and until full- until we train them otherwise.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I wouldn't say she's developing unhealthy eating habits. It seems to me two things are going on here. I think she's entered a phase where she's testing you and seeing how much "control" she can wield through whining.

Secondly, I think she's being a typical picky toddler. They all go through several phases of eating only one thing, and nothing at all, even at dinner time. The fact that her snacks are with her all day, probably isn't a good idea.

I think the key is to not let her whining rule you. Give her options of what you think she should eat, and offer puffs as her reward. If you give her two things to choose from, she'll feel a sense of control and though she's not in charge of carrying her snacks around, she may still be more willing to eat it since she chose it. I know it gets boring, but keep lots of stuff you know she'll eat, and let her choose from those things.

Second, my pediatrician told me if you keep putting a good variety of healthy/nutritional foods in front of a kid everyday, and they only pick at it, an amazing thing happens. They do get the nutrition they need and they do get enough. She says kids stomachs are only as big as their fists, so they really only need so much. She also said, with the picky types, it may seem like they're not eating healthy or enough, but she hasn't known any who will let themselves starve. They will eat whatever you give them. The key is to stick to your guns.

My oldest was totally addicted to those Gerber Wagon Wheels and puffs and was nuts for cheerios too. Unfortunately, he'd fill up on those and then not want his regular meals. I think the appeal for him was that they were little and easy to pick up, and crunchy. Nonetheless, I had to do something to get him to eat more than air-filled grain.

To get past this I started making his regular meals more like "crunchy" appetizer/finger food trays so they'd be more appealing. This worked somewhat, because I started to realize he was more of a grazer than a big sit down meal kinda guy.

So instead of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 1 or 2 snacks in between, I started to make his meals smaller, but space them so instead of two meals and a "snack", he was actually getting 3-4 smaller meals during the day, and then dinner with us at night. If he only picked at his stuff, I at least knew over the entire day, he probably ate enough to equate to at least one meal.

This worked great for us, because we just eventually began to avoid getting into the treat vortex thing altogether. If necessary I would use the puffs to get him to eat if he was in a picky mood. I'd say no puffs until you eat the good stuff! And he'd complain, but do it.

I also started hiding healthy stuff in the things he would eat(check out 2 good cookbooks "Deceptively delicious" and The "Sneaky Chef" both are at most stores and Amazon.com), and most definitely assigned a name to all of the foods using all of his favorite "characters" such as "Dora pancakes" and "Diego links" for sausage..Thomas the Tank steak, and "Tubby-toast" for grilled cheese and "Cars" soup (for Minnestroni) "Brocolli Trees" for brocoli, and my favorite "Oscar-mix" as in Oscar the grouch for spinach. It's amazing what they'll eat if it's named after a buddy.

Here's an example of one day's mini-meals:

Mini-meal 1: 1 Toasted whole grain waffle(crunchy!), 1 turkey sausage link, 1/2 cup of yougurt(on the side, sometimes on top of the waffle), milk.

Mini-meal 2: 1/2 cup of cubed cheese with 3-4 whole wheat crackers(crunchy!) 1 cup fruit Juice.

Lunch: 3 baked/breaded chicken nuggets(crunchy!) 1-2 Breaded and baked cauliflower and broccoli (crunchy!) cup of applesauce, milk.

Mini-meal 3: Graham crackers(crunchy) and cup of milk.

Dinner: What the big people are eating but a small amount and named for sure after some "character" of the day.

Last but not least. If all else fails, I have a friend who is quite the natural when it comes to child psychology. She tells her kids if they don't eat it when they're supposed to, "that's okay". She wraps it up and puts in the fridge and serves it for the kids next meal, even if everyone else is eating something else. If they won't eat it then, she wraps it up and serves it at the meal after that..and so on.

She doesn't let them have a snack in between, and definitely no treats or desserts. She says after one day of this routine, the kids usually eat everything if she puts in front of them the first time around...otherwise she threatens to "wrap it up" and they make themselves eat it..even if they hate it. Now that's something!

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answers from Minneapolis on

My youngest gets super excited at meal time but she's not overweight either. She just enjoys when it's time to eat. We eat breakfast between 8:30-9am, luch between 11:30-12, nap and then a snack sometimes after nap and then dinner shortly after that or a snack between breakfast and lunch or one or the other. I prefer after nap just to get them into the roll of not having any snacks while at school.

I'd offer fruits and veggie's for snacks instead of graham crackers, fist crackers or some other things like that if you want. I personally wouldn't be too concerned. My youngest will want more fish crackers after whe finished a plastic breastmilk storage container full of them and I typically tell her no and that we'll eat lunch or dinner soon. I divert her attention to a toy or coloring or to play with her big sister. Sometimes just getting outside takes her mind off of eating more. It could be that your child is bored or it gives her comfort. You could give your child a snuggle and divert attention.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I would have her sit down to eat her snacks--no carrying them around the house.

Also, 13 months is still very young, and she may need to eat at times that don't jive with your family's meal schedule. For instance, my son (7 months old), needs to eat supper before I get home for work, or else he's super cranky. My husband feeds him supper early, and then when we sit down to eat, our son sits next us. We still get the "family time".

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answers from St. Cloud on

It is really normal for young kids to want to eat all day and then be to full for dinner. I recommend a 3 prong approach. First vary her snacks. Have all the components of a healthy meal in the snacks you give her thought out the day. Offer cut fruit, veggies and meats besides cheerios.

2nd you can set up a snack schedule for mini meals every 2 hours- this should cut down the grazing.

3rd- offer a snack 2 hours before dinner and then let her eat nothing between then and dinner.

Not only will this schedule be healthy for her, but provide you with a wise 6 meal a day menu too.

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answers from Minneapolis on

It sounds like she may be overcome with Candida. That is when there is too much yeast in the body that screams to be fed with carbohydrates. Check out a book called, The Yeast Connection, or something else that deals with the subject.

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answers from Des Moines on

I wouldn't be to worried about it just yet. She may be going through a growth spurt... My kids both went through that at about a year, and again at about 20 months... now they only eat at meals, and have 1 snack between each meal (which is what we had been doing - our "normal" schedule). My kids are 28 months and 4 1/2 years. My daughter (the older one) went through a phase of not wanting to eat at about 3 1/2 years... she would pick at her food... but she grew out of that in a month or two. I think if it lasts to long (more than a couple months or so) you may want to bring it up to her pediatrician. S/he may have some suggestions.

Also, the many suggestions for "healthy" snacks are a great idea! If you need ideas for that there are a lot of healthy cookbooks out there (check your local library) specifically for growing babies/toddlers.




answers from Davenport on

The advice here about giving her healthy things that she can eat 'on the go' sounds very good. Be aware that blood sugar could be playing a role in this. If she's eating mostly carbs, those will trigger an insulin response... which in turn triggers a HUNGER response and so starts the endless cycle.

Starting her day with good proteins and complex carbohydrates will help start the day off right, yours too. ;}

Giving kids healthy choices they will tend to self regulate. We just need to be mindful of offering too many refined carbs and anything with very much sugar in it.



answers from Milwaukee on

I have a 17 month old and also seems to like to eat all day if I let him.
What I do is only give him a snack at set times of the day. We have breakfast, then a few hours later we have snack. I don't let him eat any other time during the day other than the designated meal and snack times (unless of course it's a special occasion or something). Also, I don't give him ANY food unless he's in his high chair. That way he knows if he wants to eat he has to be sitting in his high chair. Walking around with food only contributes to bad habits and grazing. I'm rather strict with food...my 5 yr old knows that if he walks away from the table while eating then that means he's done eating and won't get anymore.

So my suggestion would be to limit how often he eats, and to put him in the high chair when he does eat. It's ok if he cries a bit....it doesn't sound like he's hungry...just doing it out of habit.



answers from Rapid City on

It isn't unusal for a 13 month old to graze like that all day and not want to eat the meals. They are getting full on the cherrios and they like them better then what's for dinner also at dinner time she is in a stationary place while with the grazing she is able to move around. I have a feeling that is more of the trouble then the eating all day. She shouldn't be filling up on carbs alone though. When she wants to eat, give her some dried fruit or fresh fruit, cheese, protein meat like chicken which can be eaten cold or warm or those baby food vienna sausages. What you don't say is if she is overweight or not. If she isn't she is using up what she is eating, if she is, then cutting down the refills and sticking with her meals and a snack each morning and each evening and one before bed should be enough to keep her from being hungry. Sometimes kids eat when they are bored and sometimes it is habit which is what her's sounds like. They say a childs stomach isn't big and eating a lot is going to give them problems all their lives.

Another thing you should try is instead of letting her carry around her snack bowl, have her sit to eat it. This will give her the idea that you sit down to eat and you don't snack all day. I bet having to sit down for her snacks she will cut back on her own.



answers from Des Moines on

Maybe you should break her of carrying around food. Getting used to grazing throughout the day is a habit, and usually one of overweight individuals.

If now when she cries for a snack, you make her sit in her highchair until she is done, and she learns that the only time that she eats is when she is sitting at the table or in the high chair it might break this pattern before it gets too set in place. It will probably be difficult the first week, but I am thinking better to have a bad week now, than for her to learn such a bad habit so early in life.

Best of luck to you!



answers from Minneapolis on

Hi K.,

I don't have any magic advice for you, but one simple thing taht helped me was: you decide what to offer & when, and she decides how much to eat. I have found Ellyn Satter's books on the topic (How to Get Your Kid to Eat (But Not Too Much) & Child of Mine) helpful also.

Good luck!



answers from Minneapolis on

My pediatrician actually recommended the Ellen Satyr books as well. My advice would be to only offer a small snack that she would eat and then not give her anything else until dinner. She won't starve to death and she might throw some tantrums at first but hang in there, you are the one who runs the show, not her. If she refuses to eat her dinner because she just wants her cheerios, then that's her choice. If my kids don't eat dinner, they don't get anything else. If they get hungry later, we can reheat their dinner. If they are truly hungry, they will eat it.



answers from Minneapolis on

I think you would find a book by Ellyn Satter a life saver. I don't remember the exact title but it something like "Child of Mine: feeding with love and good sense"



answers from Minneapolis on

Instead of giving her snacks when she asks, give her healthy snacks with nutrition. Try sitting her down with a yogurt or some cubed fruit, ham and cheese chunks, etc. You might have to cut down on allowing her to snack while walking around and make all eating at the table until she gets through this.

She isn't going to suffer from this weird eating period in her life, but it is a good idea to try to work in better foods if you can.



answers from Sheboygan on

Ditto to all the responses about limiting the all-day snack cup and the sit down at the high chair (or booster) for snacks. It teaches good manners and you can still have several smaller meals/snacks this way. Ironically, I used to buy fish crackers, graham crackers, etc to have on hand and that's the one thing my daughter wouldn't snack on--not really sure how that happened!!!_My only guess is that we usually offerred yougurt, cut up fruit, cheese, etc as snacks when we were home, and almost always she had what we were having for dinner, including steamed veggies and meat chopped up with the Pampered Chef chopper until she was better at taking bite/chewing. And she always sat with us and ate at the same time we did for dinner (but did often need a snack when we got home, in her high chair, while I was preparing dinner) I know for a fact that she gets crunchy empty nutrition snacks at daycare, but she never seems to want them at home. Only thing I can think is that we never gave them to her regularly? Good Luck. Glad you are asking now while she is still young! It's much easier to teach good habits now (even if it means a hellish week of breaking the old one)!



answers from Rapid City on

I'd cut out most of the snacking times. Yes, she is going to cry for a day or two while she gets used to the idea but when you do give her a snack (mid morning and then mid afternoon), put her in her high chair with a glass of milk and a banana and some cheerios. When she is done snacking - take her down. Try giving her more water in her sippy cup or milk and see if that also helps with her "hunger" throughout the day.

I truely believe if YOU be the boss and set limits for her, she will respond favorably. Your little angel is at that "testing" age where she is going to try to see what she can get away with. It's so much easier to break a habit now while she is so young instead of at 3 or 4 yrs old.

Good luck and God Bless,



answers from Madison on

Make her snacks more nutritious. That way you can make sure she is getting a balanced diet throughout the day, even if she doesn't eat as much during meal times. Offer fruit cut up into small pieces, natural applesauce, yogurt, string cheese cut up into small pieces, whole wheat toast...



answers from Grand Forks on

I think family meals are a great foundation for nutrition and family social dynamics. Its a great habit to have. Studies show that children that eat meals as a family are less likely to be obese and have healthier nutritional habits. It's also a great time to talk and connect.

Having said that, you daughter is 13 m/o. She's fine. As long as she is getting her variety of nutrition in during the day. As she gets older, meals will be much easier to execute. If she continues to be demanding about food or snacking over the next year, then I would look at it again and set down some firmer rules.

I feed my kids if they say they are hungry any time of day....they just don't get "cardboard" food for snack. (ie crackers, fruit snack, or junk food) I'm not a fanatic, I just want them to eat their meals when they should. My kids are 6 and 3. If they throw a fit, they get a piece of bread and get to go to bed early. (with love... :) )

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