On-Demand Feeding a Toddler

I have been on-demand feeding Ewan because experts have said that it helps a child learn good eating habits like recognizing hunger cues and not over-eating.  I have become a believer because I can see these effects when watching Ewan eat his solid food now!
Ewan loves peas!

I have always on-demand fed Ewan since his birth.  I was pretty obsessive about making sure he nursed every two hours when he was really little and continued to nurse him on-demand whenever he wanted it--even if he had only nursed 45 minutes earlier.

My philosophy was, and still is: he knows when he needs to eat, so I won't ever deny him.

On-demand feeding to me means that I don't ever make him wait until a predetermined "meal time" to eat something.  If he is hungry, then he is hungry, and I let him eat.

It's not like I never make him wait at all, though.  Sometimes I am in the middle of preparing food and he is impatient.  I try to communicate with him that I will give him food in "just a minute."  He is learning this phrase (I hope).  Sometimes I pick him up and show him that I am cooking something or point to the oven and show him that there is food in there but it is "not ready yet".  (We are also working on this idea with the strawberry patch and tomato plants outside.  He keeps picking the green ones!)

I usually have to begin feeding him before dinner is actually ready.  He will eat some food while I prepare it and eat more when my husband and I are eating.

All and all, he knows when he is hungry, and I try to accommodate.

When he learned to sit up on his own, he would go three hours between nursing sessions because he was so busy playing that he wouldn't notice he was hungry.  I would pick him up and offer it to remind him, but I never tried to make him wait longer between nursing sessions.  I talk about his forgetting to eat in this previous post.

Now he is almost 15 months old and still nursing about 4 to 5 times per day (multiple times from about 5am to 10am, afternoon nap, and bed time).  This may seem like alot, but I know that my milk volume is not what it used to be, so he isn't getting as much milk per session as he used to.  He eats three meals and 2 snacks every day, too.

I practice baby-led weaning, and the way I do it is to just offer Ewan food and let him decide how much to eat.  I put food on his high chair tray or offer him a spoonful of something.  Sometimes he is unsure about something because it is new, but it helps for him to see me eating it.

The other day, I gave him quiche for the first time.  I cut a tiny piece for him and set it on his tray.  He looked at it but then asked for something else.  I told him it is "yummy" and he watched me take a bite of my piece.  He reached out for MY piece of quiche, so I gave it to him and took his.  He wants to eat what I'm eating, even if he has the same thing on his tray!

He is a "good" eater, I guess, because he seems excited about eating and is open to trying new things.  I'm not sure if these eating habits are just his personality or the result of something we have done.

When he was younger, he used always to try to nurse when he was hungry.  He learned this when he was solely breastfed.  He would get into my lap and put bury his face in my chest.  But, when he got to be about 10 months, I started offering him solid food for snacks if he asked to nurse.  I would nurse him if he really wanted it, but most of the time he was just hungry and would accept regular food.

Now, he will go into the kitchen and begin pointing at the counter where the fruit and bread is kept or at the other counter where I prepare meals.  Rarely does he ask to nurse if he is hungry.  He asks for food.  He now associates nursing with going to sleep and being comforted if he is upset.

The most positive effect of on-demand feeding is apparent at the end of a meal.  He obviously knows when he is full.

When he is done, he will begin handing his food back to me (or throwing it on the floor).  If I offer him something and he is full, he will give it back and shake his head.  He tries to clear his tray off when he is done.  If he is walking around the kitchen eating a snack, like a piece of bread or fruit, he will give it back to me if he is done.

I respect his communication that he is done and I don't try to force him to eat more.

I'm so excited that he has developed these great eating habits!  Some days he eats alot, some days he doesn't eat so much.  I don't worry about how much he eats at any given meal or snack because I know that if he is hungry, he will let me know, and I will give him something.