First things first, don’t panic!  We all know that toddlers have irregular eating patterns. Some days, they eat a ton; other days, they eat nothing. Sometimes, they sit at the table; sometimes, they just want to nibble. They’ll have weeks where all they want is one particular food, and then suddenly, that food is off the favorites list.  It can definitely be confusing.  

Picky and unpredictable eating is common in toddlers. When a toddler refuses to eat, they are more or less trying to practice their budding independence. We at Carithers Pediatric Group perfectly understand these behavioral patterns and want to help parents address feeding challenges with an age-appropriate mindset. Helping toddlers understand and recognize both their hunger and fullness cues goes a long way toward helping them develop healthy attitudes toward food.  This also helps families avoid pediatric weight management issues that can have lasting impacts on their children’s overwell health and wellness.

So, if you’re still asking, “How do I get my toddler to eat?” the tips in this article may help you!

Toddler Doesn’t Want to Eat: The Most Common Reactions

Little Asian Girl Close Her Mouth by Hand Refuse to Eat Tomato in Spaghetti From Her Mother

Even though they are testing and practicing their independence, most toddlers seem to exhibit a common pattern and have similar reactions to the food they get served.

They might:

  • Refuse food because of its texture and color.
  • Lose interest in foods they used to like.
  • Not try new foods.
  • Want to feed themselves with a fork and spoon. 

What To Do When The Toddler Refuses To Eat?

Don’t stress!  Remember, it’s your job as a parent to offer healthy foods. It’s your child’s job to decide whether or not they want to eat it and how much of it they want to consume. Maintaining an even-keeled mindset will help you stay calm and confident in your offerings, and you can take heart in knowing that your child will eat what is provided for them if/when they are hungry enough to eat it. Keep offering healthy choices! They’ll eventually come around!

Introducing Healthy Eating Habits

Here are a few steps you can do when it comes to more effective toddler feeding:

  • Practicing patience: Keep your cool when offering new foods. It might take over ten tries before your toddler will give in.
  • Always serve the right amount of food: Generally, you should offer your toddler one tablespoon of each food for each year of their age. That means they should be offered three tablespoons of each food if they are three years old. Also, these small portions enable them to ask for more if they happen to like it.
  • Offer choices: Instead of imposing vegetables on your toddler, make them an option. For example, ask whether they would like cauliflower or broccoli for dinner. Asking for their opinion can make them more involved.  Plus, they’re selecting among healthy choices!
  • Let them help: Make your child a part of the preparation process and let them choose food items from the store. Also, find ways they can help you prepare the meal; again, if they feel more involved, they will be more likely to eat as well.
  • Consider dips: Offering healthy dip options may help your child try new vegetables and fruits. Yogurt, hummus, and low-fat salad dressings are all great dip variations. 
  • Introduce some fun: You can always experiment with cookie cutters and cut food into fun shapes. Also, be creative when displaying foods on the plate.
  • Mix things up: Always serve at least one new food alongside the old favorites. This can make trying out new things easier. 
  • Set a good example: If your toddler sees you eating a wide variety of foods, they will be more likely to follow suit. 

Mealtimes Should Be Pleasant

When it comes to toddler feeding, the following tricks and tips may also help:

  • Strive to create a routine: Children often prefer going over the same motions again and again. Try to establish regular mealtimes and ensure the child sits in the same place every time. 
  • Give a heads-up: Tell your child that the meal will be ready in about ten to fifteen minutes. This will often give them enough time to shift from playtime to mealtime mode.
  • Mealtimes should be family time: Avoid toys or electronic devices while at the dining table. Discourage activities like reading books or watching TV during mealtime. Instead, emphasize the importance of sharing a meal together as a family. Encourage your child to remain seated at the table until everyone has finished eating. All individuals at the table need to demonstrate consistent behavior to avoid conveying conflicting messages to your toddler.
  • Make the occasion pleasant: If mealtimes are pleasant, chances are your toddler will look forward to them. Avoid negative talk and arguing at the table.
  • Set realistic expectations: If your toddler refuses to eat, don’t expect a sudden shift in manners. It might take some time to intrigue your child and get them excited for mealtimes and food in general. 

About Snacking

Each day, it’s recommended that your child partakes in three main meals and two intermediate snacks. Typically, toddlers have smaller appetites and may not consume sufficient calories during a single meal to sustain them until the next. Therefore, incorporating healthy snacks between meals becomes crucial.

Consider offering nutritious options such as low-fat string cheese, yogurt, apple slices, strawberry halves, lean turkey slices, or whole-grain crackers with a nut or seed butter.  If your child already shows a preference for pre-packaged processed snacks, don’t feel bad – life is busy, and we all have been there before. Just try over time to replace them – one at a time – with a healthier option.  By gradually shifting the snacks, your child is less likely to notice.  

It is advised to offer snacks only when the next meal is scheduled several hours later. If the subsequent meal is expected within an hour, it’s best to forgo the snack. This practice helps ensure that your child arrives at the table with a healthy appetite, increasing the likelihood of them eating a well-balanced meal.

In situations where your child consumes only a minimal amount of food during a meal, don’t be overly concerned.  They’re listening to their hunger and satiety cues!  We generally counsel against having a “fallback food” if a meal is declined but rather suggest saving the meal that wasn’t consumed and having that as the option if/when your toddler is hungry later.  It’s OK if that, too, is refused!  They’ll eat a bunch at the subsequent regular meal!  

Other Considerations

Bored Asian Children Girl With Food and Red Chopsticks Sitting at the Table

There are several things you can do to help your child eat more. Still, it’s also important to remember the following:

  • Try to avoid bribing your child: Using threats, punishments, and rewards is not advisable, as they can often result in power struggles. It’s best to avoid entering into negotiations or making deals with your child, such as promising dessert if they eat a certain number of additional bites. This approach can inadvertently teach them to seek rewards through bargaining for various tasks. Furthermore, associating dessert with a reward elevates its importance in the child’s perception, potentially fostering unhealthy attitudes towards sweet treats.
  • Don’t force things: When no longer hungry, allow your toddler to leave the table. If you make them eat when they aren’t hungry, you will only disrupt the natural cues that will let them know when they’re full. Let them learn to listen to their bodies. 

Encourage Healthy Eating

It’s normal for toddlers to refuse to eat. It comes with the territory!  If you want to learn more about effective approaches regarding toddler weight management and eating habits, feel free to reach out to us and schedule an appointment today.