Toddler refuses to eat, What to Do!

What to Do When Your Toddler Refuses to Eat

Feeding problems: Refusing to eat,Here are some scenarios that you might encounter at the table with your toddler, and what you might want to do when you do.
Toddler refuses to eat

My toddler won't eat anything!

I'm sure this has happened in your house: You make a dinner that includes foods that you know your little one likes. You get everyone to the table and bring out the food. Your toddler won't eat throws a fit sulks, or fusses. No matter how hard you try, this is the occasional reality of feeding toddlers. The good news is that it's normal. The bad news? It's your job to help your little one handle their angst. Here are some scenarios that you might encounter at the table with your toddler, and what you might want to do when you do.

Your toddler decides they don't like something until they taste it.  

 When this happens in our house, I gently remind that my toddler that she/he can't know that she/he doesn't like something if she/he doesn't taste it and I encourage, but I do not force her/him to try a bite. Explain what the food tastes like by comparing it to other foods they have eaten. Remind them about how they helped you pick out one of the ingredients at the grocery store or how a character in a favorite book enjoyed the food.
It's also entirely possible that once they have it in their head that they don't want something, they won't eat it. Because sometimes not wanting dinner is a power play and your toddler is testing you, they want to find out what the boundaries are and what you will do when they refuse to eat something.

How can I get my toddler to try new foods !?

Here are some things to say to your extremely picky eaters when that happens:

 • “The next time you're going to have a chance to eat is at breakfast tomorrow and I'm worried that you'll be hungry before then. Do you understand that your belly might feel uncomfortable if you don't eat now?”
 • “Can we see if there's a way to make this dinner yummier for you? Would you like a dip?”
 • “Can I cut this up for your”
 • “Do you need a different spoon so this is easier to eat?”

Toddler pleads for a specific food, but it's not what you had planned (or made) for dinner.

 The easiest way to handle this is to explain that we're having such and such tonight, but that you will make their requested food soon. Then follow through so they know they can trust you. Make sure there is something on the table that the your toddler likes, even if it's a side of fruit, cheese or an easy healthy snack, and involve them in doing something to help get ready for the meal to distract them like : helping to set the table, filling their sippy cup, or washing their hands.

Toddlers are too preoccupied playing at the table to eat their food.

  If a younger toddler is playing with their food rather than eating it at the start of the meal, chances are they aren't hungry. If an older toddler starts playing with their food towards the end of the meal, chances are good that they are full and it's time to end their meal.

If you want to give your toddler a little more time before coming to the table, I would suggest that you go ahead and eat while the meal is warm. Warm up their food when they are ready and sit with them while they eat. I recommend this more for younger toddlers—who often show physical signs that they aren't ready to eat such as playing with food or pushing back from the table—rather than a 2.5 or 3 year old, who might be avoiding the table because they want to keep playing. In that case, explain that it's dinnertime, they can go back to their activity after they are done, and try to entice them by asking them a very specific question about their day or an activity they like. Remember that distraction can work in your favor here.

Toddlers don't eat well at dinner, but always request a snack before bedtime.

 It's possible that if your toddler expects a bedtime snack of a food that they like, they won't eat dinner. You can try limiting the amount of time between dinnertime and bedtime—so basically go right from dinner into the bath/bedtime routine—so that there isn't time for her to get hungry in between.

Or, if there are 2 or more hours between dinner and bedtime, she very well might be hungry. You could either push dinner back a bit or institute a regular bedtime snack. This is a tactic, If there is always a healthy bedtime snack, you won't have to renegotiate it every night. And you also won't have to worry about sending your child to bed hungry if you are prone to that particular worry. I'd just caution against making the snack. something they love because older kids may decide to skip dinner so they can eat their snack. Rotate foods that are basic, nutritious, and that your child generally likes. You could try toast with nut butter, plain yogurt with a little honey, sliced fruit, applesauce, dry cereal, hard cooked eggs, string cheese, or some whole grain crackers.

Toddlers legitimately seem to not like the food.

There are times when I make a new recipe (or honestly, anything in casserole form) when my daughter simply doesn't seem to like the meal. And whether it's the texture or flavor, I am never certain, but if this happens in your house, here are some things to try:

  • When serving a new recipe, or something you suspect they won't like, include a simple side dish that they will usually eat. It could be fruit, roasted veggies or peas—the goal is to have something on the table that you know they will likely eat. This makes the whole experience feel less threatening and can keep everyone happy (and full).

  • If I make something and somehow miss the target with my sides and my daughter is refusing to eat, I offer a "backup meal". If you use sides well, this should happen rarely. Decide on one food that she likes well enough, but would never ask for on her own. Think plain yogurt with granola, toast with nut butter, cottage cheese and fruit. (In other words, don't make the backup meal cheddar bunny crackers or mac and cheese!) This eliminates any short order cooking (because the meal you choose is not something that requires you to cook), it ensures that there is something nourishing to eat and it reduces drama around getting her to eat something she doesn't like. If this option is always the same food, it shouldn't be all that enticing of an option day in and day out.

Toddlers won't eat because of teething or sickness.

Teething is the worst! Try not to expect that your toddler will eat normally when they are cutting teeth (especially not with molars) and instead offer them plenty of liquids, chilled foods and things that don't require too much chewing—smoothies, yogurt, pastina, popsicles—to help avoid irritating their already irritated gums.

And with a cold or sickness, it's very likely their appetite will go down. The general rule that many pediatricians share is that as long as they are drinking and going to the bathroom normally, then you shouldn't need to worry too much. (Though of course you will still worry...that too is normal.) Keep portion-sizes small, don't push food too hard, and trust that their little bodies are doing what they need to in order to feel better.

keep in mind that all those previous ways will not work without patience

When a small child refuses a food, it is not a judgment on our cooking skills (or our parenting skills for that matter). A lot of this has to do with the developmental stage they are in, of learning and exploring boundaries, and simply seeing how much power they have. And usually, the less you can react in the situation, the better. 


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