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Loving Spoonfuls

Grown-Up Food

BLUE_TEXT_BOLD(13 to 18 months)

By this age, your baby should, if possible, be eating the same things as the rest of the family (cut up to manageable size) so he learns that mealtime is a sociable event and that certain rules apply -- though don't expect anything resembling table manners just yet.

* Balancing solids and liquids. Solids are now the key source of your baby's nutrition, especially since he's probably drinking cow's milk, which contains a combination of nutrients different from breast milk or formula. Still, he should consume no more than 12 to 16 ounces of milk per day (or 2 cups' worth) so that he actually has an appetite for his meals. And because juice will also fill up a baby and provides almost no nutrition, serve him no more than 4 ounces a day.

* When to snack. While some experts feel that it doesn't matter whether a child grazes all day or just eats three square meals, Dr. Wilkoff warns against "oversnacking," where kids are allowed to munch endlessly and then have no real appetite at mealtimes.

"Snacks should be given at two predictable times during the day -- say, after naptime and before a favorite video," he says. Aim for what's nutritious: fruit, string cheese, small cups of yogurt, or crackers.

* Adding on utensils. Your toddler will no doubt want to try to feed himself. Choose a small, soft-edged spoon or a blunt fork, but if he's more interested in using it as a toy, weapon, or launching device than as a feeding tool, take it away and try again in a few weeks. Otherwise, he may be so distracted that he won't eat much.

* Why tots turn choosy. As children become increasingly familiar with various foods and their growth rate slows down, picky eating can begin to rear its ugly head. Witness the parent of a finicky toddler and you may see someone teetering on the brink of insanity.

My cousin David would painstakingly insert vegetables into his daughter Diana's penne pasta, only to watch her immediately poke them out. My friend Kristin spoon-fed her older son, Cole, until he was 4. And my husband and I have been literally moved to tears when Olivia has grudgingly agreed to eat a cherry tomato.

The upshot? Don't go there, or you may never come back. Your job is to provide well-balanced, regular meals; your child's job is to eat them, or not. Forget tactics like bribery, and, whatever else you do, don't fall into the habit of preparing separate meals for your toddler.

The best way to keep your sanity is to remember that kids eat in spurts and slowdowns. They won't starve themselves -- even though there'll be days when you swear your child is eating nothing but air.