Why "Eating Age" Matters to a Recently Weaned Child

I’m not sure that anything beats the realization that your child is completely and fully done with the feeding tube! But weaning from the tube isn’t the last journey that your family will take when it comes to helping your child learn to eat happily and independently. And as that journey progresses, it can be tricky not to compare your newly weaned 1-year-old to her peers who have been oral from day one. But before you panic, and worry that weaning wasn’t enough, let me remind you of one important principle.

There is a profound difference between a child’s “eating age” and “chronological age.” Eating age begins when a child becomes fully oral: no longer dependent on the feeding tube for nutrition support. From that time, it can take a normally developing child up to two years to develop a full range of eating skills and abilities. That means that a 1-year-old who has been fully oral for 6 months has the “eating age” of a 6-month-old. This is important to remember because it helps us, as caregivers and parents, to set realistic expectations surrounding mealtime skills and behaviors. And being realistic will do a lot to help us avoid the pressure and anxiety of expecting too much too quickly.

It’s not realistic to expect a recently weaned 1-year-old to have the eating skills of a peer who was never reliant on a feeding tube. At 6 months post-tube-feeding, we would realistically look for your child to have similar skills and intake of a 6-month-old. That might mean that mealtimes still consist of purees and fork mash-able foods. Perhaps your child still even likes to gain nutrition from her bottle. And all of that is okay! The best way to support your newly weaned child is to give her time and opportunity: stage your meals in ways to offer the most nutrition at current skill levels first, followed by offerings that are safe and more advanced.

But mostly? Be patient – with yourself and with your child. She will not eat purees forever. She will grow and advance. As you continue to foster joy and trust with every meal, she will learn the skills that you worry most about.

Elisabeth Kraus, MiT, Parent and Family Coordinator