One day, that super cute baby with all their adorable little fat rolls that used to eat whatever you would put in front of them will stop eating like they used to. Maybe they’re only eating half of the portion or rejecting a plethora of foods they used to enjoy with gusto. And then the overthinking and anxiety hits you: they didn’t eat enough, they’re going to go hungry, they’ll lose too much weight and will get sick.

The truth is our relationship with food changes throughout time, either coming in phases or forever, and according to several different factors – one of them being your own growth process. One of these marks happens after the child turns one, when they tend to reduce the amount of food they eat, and it’s normal that they start to eat less than what they did when they were only nine months old, for example. This is a common concern parents have when their child is around 1 year and 3 months up until they turn 3.

It makes sense. After all, they don’t need that much food as their growth, while still operating at a fast pace, isn’t as accelerated as before. Just to give you an idea, from birth to their first year of life, your baby has tripled in weight – imagine what this would mean for an adult! In 12 months, your child has gone from about 3 kgs (average weight for newborn babies) to approximately 9 to 10 kgs. However, from 1 to 2 years of age, their growth will slow down a bit: it’s normal for them to gain anywhere from 1 to 3 kgs only.

Why do babies reject certain foods?

Another important factor that comes into play is that your child is figuring out who they are as a person and will measure their independence based on saying what they like and dislike. They are slowing becoming more selective and it’s not a bad thing: they’re making their own choices, figuring out what they like and how much does it satisfy them. That way, if it seemed like they used to love squash but now can’t even bear the sight of it, don’t read too much into it, you also don’t eat every single kind of food on Earth. However, don’t outright eliminate squash from the menu – much on the contrary. Present the rejected food a couple more times (experts recommend trying anywhere from 10 to 15 times!) and prepared in different ways. If, after all your attempts and you’ve exhausted all your options they still don’t like squash, perhaps it is time to make your peace with it and accept the fact that maybe they just really hate squash.

Later in life, between ages two or three, some children display signs of what experts call food neophobia, which means the fear or aversion to unknown and new foods. Children refuse to even try the dish. Therefore, the phase between ages one to two is your best opportunity to offer the biggest variety of foods, before your child goes into this more restrictive phase – which will only subside around the time they’re 5 or 6 years old.

What can I do to make my child eat?

The first rule of thumb is: don’t force them, don’t threaten them and don’t make any promises. This will only make their relationship to food worse and can harm their satiation mechanism. Many pediatricians say nature knows best and that babies come into the world knowing exactly how much they should eat to feel full. This happens when they breastfeed, but when they start weaning off breast milk, the control over eating falls onto the parents’ hands. It shouldn’t, according to experts. Family members and caretakers should only be in charge of choosing what’s on the menu, what time to eat and where – portion control is up to the baby to decide.

The fact of the matter is that there is a satiety mechanism that should be respected with healthy kids and that interfering with it could lead the child to become predisposed to obesity later in life. In most cases, it is the parents’ expectation of how much the child should eat that’s wrong, not the size of the child’s appetite. It’s all right if the child doesn’t eat well one day and then goes back to normal the next, adults are the same way.

If your child is satiated and your pediatrician tells you they are on the growth curve, there’s nothing to worry about. Try to offer some variety, so that the little bit they do eat is enough to meet their nutritional needs. Do not let them snack, not even little pieces of fruit outside of their feeding windows in an effort to compensate. And leave their meal within the child’s reach: most of the time the baby just wants to eat on their own during this phase of independence.

The best thing you can do is set an example. Eat everything you’d like your baby to eat (without making any faces) and eat with them, without the distraction from the TV, electronic devices, books or toys. Ok, sometimes it’s hard not to turn to these tools in real life, but establishing these as rules and not exceptions can go a long way with helping your child’s appetite and avoid any food rejections.