Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Feeding and Nutrition Patterns

Adaptive (Self-Help) Development: Typical Feeding and Nutrition Patterns for Infants, Toddlers and Young Children1

Children go through specific stages in the development of their feeding skills. Although completely dependent on others at first, they quickly learn to eat and drink on their own, first with baby materials (e.g. baby bottles and sippy cups) then with grown-up materials (e.g. spoons and chopsticks).

Most children develop feeding patterns and skills in this order:

  • turning head toward mother’s breast or bottle
  • sucking from mother’s breast or bottle
  • opening mouth in anticipation of food being offered
  • pulling food off the spoon
  • holding own bottle
  • eating strained foods
  • eating solid foods
  • feeding self finger foods
  • drinking from a sippy cup
  • using a spoon (may not hold it properly)
  • drinking from a glass
  • sucking from a straw
  • distinguishing between edible and non-edible foods
  • using a fork (may not hold it properly)
  • holding eating utensils correctly (e.g. spoon, fork, chopsticks)
  • pouring liquid from one container to another
  • fixing a simple sandwich (e.g. spreading cream cheese, with plastic knife, on a slice of bread)

It’s important to note that some children may go through stages of “food refusal.” This is a typical part of development. Food refusal usually happens when a child is starting to develop a sense of self. They are learning how to talk and communicate and want to let others know that they are the “boss.” They may decide to refuse a certain type of food that they were willing to eat the week before. Parents and those who work with young children should not force children to eat what they do not want to eat. Instead, we should realize that this is a part of growing up and a food that is refused today may be eaten in a few weeks’ time. We should let children exercise a little bit of control with regards to what they want to eat, and reintroduce the refused food a few weeks later. This shows children they can make their own decisions and that they can have a say in what happens to them.

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