We know what you’re thinking: “I’ve got a toddler, and they won’t eat anything! How can I make my kids want to eat? What are some tips that work for other moms like me?”
Well, we have good news–there are many ways to get your toddler to start eating more of the foods you offer them!
Toddler Not Eating – or Not Eating Enough?
Many parents worry about whether their toddlers are eating enough healthy food. It’s common for toddlers to eat only tiny amounts, to be fussy about what they eat, and to refuse to eat at all.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Toddler appetites constantly vary because of growth spurts and variations in inactivity.
- Toddlers aren’t growing as fast as babies, so they need less food.
- Toddlers have small stomachs.
- Toddlers are very interested in the world around them, so they have short attention spans for food.
- Toddlers want to push boundaries and show how independent they can be.
Common Parental Concerns
Picky eating can be shared with toddlers. The world has become an exciting place, and food may be less critical when there are many other things to do.
Some other reasons why toddlers’ eating patterns change include:
Growth slows down in a child’s second year. This means toddlers often have smaller appetites and need less food.
The amount eaten from day to day can change dramatically. Although it sometimes worries parents, this change is average and doesn’t mean your child is being difficult or is unwell.
Grazing and Snacking
Toddlers rarely follow a traditional meal pattern. They tend to need small and regular snacks. This suits small tummy sizes and provides the energy to keep moving all day.
The amount is eaten at mealtimes, particularly the evening meal, maybe smaller than parents would like.
However, children can balance the amount of food eaten with exactly how much they need if they can enjoy good eats and are not forced to overeat or finish all the food on the plate.
This means that healthy snacks are essential to help provide the energy and nutrition your child needs during the day.
Showing independence is part of normal toddler development, and this often includes refusing to eat foods you offer.
Rejecting food does not always mean the child doesn’t like it. If you offer it on another day, they may eat it!
Other Common Toddler Feeding Problems
Other expected toddler eating behaviour may include:
- Mealtime tantrums and food refusal
- Delay in self-feeding
- Preference for pureed foods or difficulty with chewing
- Reduced intake of food or reliance on drinks.
How to Handle Your Toddler’s Appetite
If your child won’t eat or won’t eat whole meals, you could try reducing the amount you’re offering. It’s normal for toddlers to need only small servings at mealtimes.
Also, avoid trying to force your child to finish everything on the plate because this can make mealtimes stressful. Instead, praise your child for trying a spoonful or having a sip of water if that’s all they want.
At regular times between meals, you can offer your child healthy snacks like fruit or vegetable sticks. This should keep your child going if they’re eating only small amounts at main meals.
As long as you offer healthy food, try not to worry if your child doesn’t eat very much sometimes. Your child won’t starve. Children are very good at judging how much food they need.
It can help to judge your child’s appetite over a week rather than over a single day. It’s OK if your child eats less today – they might be hungrier tomorrow.
Trying New Food
You might think your child is fussy and will eat only one or two particular foods.
But sometimes toddlers will try new foods if you keep trying. Here are some ideas that might help.
Creating a Positive Eating Environment
- Make mealtimes a happy, regular and social family occasion. Sit together to eat with your child whenever you can.
- Show your child how much you enjoy eating the food you’ve prepared.
- Get your child involved in helping to prepare and cook family meals.
- Offer new foods when you and your child are relaxed and your child isn’t too tired or distracted by other things.
- Set a time limit of about 20 minutes for a meal. If your child hasn’t eaten the food, take it away and don’t offer an alternative snack or meal.
- Avoid punishing your child for refusing to try new foods. This can turn to taste fresh foods into a negative thing.
- Avoid bribing your child with treats so that they’ll eat some healthy food. This can make your child more interested in treats than healthy food and sends the message that eating healthy food is a chore.
Serving New Foods
- Keep offering new foods. It can take 10-15 tries for children to accept and enjoy fresh foods.
- Serve your child the same foods as the rest of the family. Your child will get the nutritional benefits of a wide range of foods and accept new tastes and textures as ‘normal’.
- Offer fresh foods with foods that your child already knows and likes.
- If your child refuses something, offer it again in a week or so. Your child might gobble it up and even ask for more – toddler interest in food can fluctuate wildly.
Following Your Child’s Lead
- Let your child touch, lick and play with food, and expect some mess as they learn to eat.
- Let your child feed themselves, and give your child some help if needed.
- If your child loses interest or seems tired, cranky or unwell, take the food away.
- Once you’ve found something your child eats and enjoys, it can be tempting to keep serving it up. But your child needs to eat a wide variety of foods to get all the nutrients they need for growth and development. So it’s important to keep offering your child lots of different foods.
Path to Improved Health
You can’t force your child to eat. However, you can provide nutritious foods, demonstrate healthy eating habits, and set the stage for pleasant mealtimes. My Baby Nursery has the best range of high chairs for your baby. Check them out here.
Healthy Eating Habits
Serve the Right Amount.
Offer your child one tablespoon of each food for each year of age. For example, if he or she is 3, serve three tablespoons of each food. Small portions give him or her the chance to ask for more.
Offer new foods many times. You may have to offer food 10 to 15 times before your child will try it.
Let Your Child Help.
Let him or she choose foods in the grocery store. Then find a way he or she can help prepare the meal or set the table. Participating in the different parts of mealtime may make him or her more likely to eat.
Make Things Fun.
Cut food into shapes with cookie cutters. Display the food in a creative way on your child’s plate. Have your child come up with unique names for their favourite foods.
Instead of serving a vegetable to your toddler, let them choose between two options. “Would you like broccoli or cauliflower for dinner?”
Mix New With Old.
Serve new foods alongside favourites. This may make trying something new easier.
Let Them Dip.
Provide healthy dips to encourage your child to try new fruits or vegetables. These could include hummus, yogurt, or low-fat salad dressings.
Be a Good Example.
If your child sees you eating a variety of healthy foods, he or she will be more likely to try them.
Let Your Child Decide
Your role as the parent of a toddler is to decide what food and when to offer it, but the child decides whether or not to eat and how much they’ll eat.
Remember that children eat when they’re hungry. Children have a natural ability to sense when they are hungry and when they are full.
If you insist that your child eats more than they choose to, you are likely to be overriding this natural ability and may encourage future overeating.
Let your child decide whether they will eat and how much they will eat.
Give Your Child a Heads Up.
Ten to 15 minutes before mealtime, tell your child it will be time to eat soon. Sometimes children are so tired or excited from play activities that they don’t want to eat. Telling them mealtime is coming will let them transition from playtime to mealtime.
Establish a Routine.
Children like it when things are the same. Set regular mealtimes. Sit in the same place for every meal.
Reserve Mealtimes for Eating and Spending Time With Family.
Don’t let your child play with toys or electronic devices at the table. Don’t let them read a book or watch TV, either. Explain to your child how good it is to eat together. Ask him or her to stay at the table until everyone is done eating.
Make Mealtimes Pleasant.
If mealtimes are pleasant, your child is more likely to look forward to eating. Try to avoid arguments or negative talk at the table.
Manage Your Expectations.
Don’t expect manners that are too difficult for your child. For example, don’t expect a 3-year-old child to eat with the proper utensil. For many children, a spoon is much easier to handle than a fork.
What About Snacks?
Each day, your child should have three meals and two snacks. Toddlers usually don’t eat enough in one meal to remain full until the next meal. Offer your child small, healthy snacks between meals.
Healthy snacks include:
- Low-fat string cheese.
- Apple slices or strawberry halves.
- Slices of lean turkey.
- Whole-grain crackers with peanut butter.
Only offer a snack if the next meal is several hours away. If the meal is within the next hour, skip the snack. If your child comes to the table hungry, he or she is more likely to eat.
If your child doesn’t eat at the meal, offer a nutritious snack a few hours later. If your child doesn’t eat the snack, offer food again at the next mealtime. A child will usually eat at the second meal. With this approach, you can help make sure your child won’t have problems with a poor diet.
Things to Consider
There are many things you can do to encourage your child to eat. But there are things you should not do, as well.
Don’t Force Your Child to Clean His or Her Plate.
Once he or she is no longer hungry, your child should be allowed to stop eating.
Making them eat when they’re not hungry can interfere with the natural cues that tell them when they’re full.
It is allowing them to choose when to stop eating teaches them how to listen to their bodies and make healthy food choices.
Don’t Negotiate With or Bribe Your Child.
Threats, punishments, and rewards aren’t good ideas, either. They can lead to power struggles. Avoid making deals.
For example, don’t tell them if they eat three more bites, they can have dessert.
This teaches them to make deals to get rewards for other things. In addition, making dessert a tip gives it a higher value in the child’s mind. This can lead to unhealthy attitudes toward sweets.
Parents Control the Supply Lines.
You decide which foods to buy and when to serve them.
Though kids will pester their parents for less nutritious foods, adults should be in charge when deciding which foods are regularly stocked in the house. Kids won’t go hungry.
They’ll eat what’s available in the cupboard and fridge at home. If their favourite snack isn’t all that nutritious, you can still buy it once in a while, so they don’t feel deprived.
From the Foods You Offer, Kids Get to Choose What They Will Eat or Eat at All.
Kids need to have some say in the matter: regularly scheduled meals and snack times.
From the selections you offer, let them choose what to eat and how much of it they want. This may seem like a little too much freedom.
But if you follow step 1, your kids will be choosing only from the foods you buy and serve.
Quit the “clean-Plate Club.”
Let kids stop eating when they feel they’ve had enough.
Many parents grew up under the clean-plate rule, but that approach doesn’t help kids listen to their bodies when they feel full.
When kids notice and respond to feelings of fullness, they’re less likely to overeat.
Start Them Young.
Food preferences are developed early in life, so offer variety. Likes and dislikes begin forming even when kids are babies.
You may need to serve a new food a few different times for a child to accept it.
Don’t force a child to eat, but offer a few bites. With older kids, ask them to try one bite.
Rewrite the Kids’ Menu.
Who says kids only want to eat hot dogs, pizza, burgers, and macaroni and cheese?
When eating out, let your kids try new foods, and they might surprise you with their willingness to experiment.
You can start by letting them try a little of whatever you ordered or ordering an appetiser for them to try.
Calories in Drinks Count.
Soda and other sweetened drinks add extra calories and get in the way of good nutrition. Water and milk are the best drinks for kids.
Juice is fine when it’s 100%, but kids don’t need much of it — 4 to 6 ounces a day is enough for preschoolers.
Put Sweets in Their Place.
Occasional sweets are fine but don’t turn dessert into the main reason for eating dinner.
When dessert is the prize for eating dinner, kids naturally place more value on the cupcake than the broccoli. Try to stay neutral about food.
Food Is Not Love.
Find better ways to say “I love you.”
When foods are used to reward kids and show affection, they may start using food to cope with stress or other emotions.
Offer hugs, praise, and attention instead of food treats.
Kids Do as You Do.
Be a role model and eat healthy yourself.
When trying to teach good eating habits, try to set the best example possible. Choose nutritious snacks, eat at the table, and don’t skip meals.
Limit Tv and Computer Time.
When you do, you’ll avoid mindless snacking and encourage activity.
Research has shown that kids who cut down on TV-watching also reduced their percentage of body fat.
When TV and computer time are limited, they’ll find more active things to do. And limiting “screen time” means you’ll have more time to be active together.
To reduce the risk of choking, safety suggestions include:
- Always supervise young children when they are eating.
- Encourage your child always to eat sitting down to prevent falls and reduce the risk of choking.
- Avoid small hard foods such as nuts, raw carrot, hard lollies and popcorn. Offer lightly steamed vegetable sticks instead.
Professional Help May Be Needed
Many parents worry about their child’s eating at some stage, particularly in younger children when food intake and appetite appear to change daily. You should ask for professional help if:
- You have concerns about your child’s growth
- Your child is unwell, tired and not eating
- Mealtimes are causing lots of stress and anxiety.
If you’re concerned your toddler is refusing to eat, don’t let it show. He or she may be seeking attention, and your disapproval fills that need. That may lead to the same thing happening over and over. Looking for the best tables and chairs for a baby playroom? Look no further. My Baby Nursery has you covered.
Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about how your child is growing or if you’re concerned that picky eating is slowing your child’s growth.