Toddler not eating? Try these genius ideas and tips

It’s a tale as old as time — you have a super easy baby who eats everything you give her, from mushy peas to pureed meats, but once your amenable baby becomes a toddler all of that changes. Suddenly you have a toddler who won’t eat anything other than crackers, crackers, and more crackers, regardless of what you try to give her. Toddlers don’t get a bad rap for nothing, The terrible twos and “threenager” years have earned their titles because this is the stage of development when children master the word “no.”

One of the main ways toddlers exert their newfound independence is often by refusing to eat anything that they previously loved. It can be an incredibly frustrating time for parents, but having a toddler that suddenly won’t eat isn’t the end of the world. It’s actually somewhat common, and in some cases may be completely normal. Here are a few ideas and tips if your toddler won’t eat and what to do if you have any concerns.

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What’s normal?

First of all, a toddler who won’t eat or has suddenly become a picky eater is not uncommon. In fact, according to Healthline, most toddlers are picky eaters. Transitioning from a baby who happily munches on every new food introduced to him to a picky toddler who will only eat chicken nuggets and goldfish is rarely cause for concern and more than likely another phase in his development. “Selective (or picky) eating often shows up between 12 and 18 months,” explained registered dietician and nutritionist Yaffi Lvova. “The official term for this is ‘food neophobia’: the fear of new foods.”

Eating or not eating is one of the areas that toddlers are able to exert some control over their bodies so if they don’t like what they’re being offered or simply don’t feel like eating, they won’t.

What can parents do when a toddler won’t eat?

Although it can be comforting to know that your toddler’s sudden disinterest or pickiness when it comes to food is completely normal, it can still be frustrating for parents. Family Doctor suggests that parents continue to model healthy eating habits around their child if the toddler won’t eat anything. You can’t force your toddler to eat, but you can show her how enjoyable it can be to eat healthy foods.

They also suggest giving your toddler a say in what he will eat. If you present him with a few different healthy options he can choose from, it will also encourage him to try something new. This helps him feel as though he has some control over his diet.

Don’t let your child’s refusal to eat something stop you from serving it, either. Just because she doesn’t like a new food the first time she tries it doesn’t mean that she will turn her nose up at it the second or third time. Toddlers need time for their palates to evolve and that sometimes means introducing new foods more than once.

Having a schedule so that your child always eats at the same time will also help your child look forward to eating, as well as involving him in the preparation of the meal. Bringing your toddler into the kitchen to observe and even help choose what’s for dinner is a great way for him to get excited about eating.

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Be cautious about bargaining

It can be tempting as a parent to strike a deal with your toddler when it comes to eating. Bribing her to take a few bites of something in return for extra playtime or something else equally appealing may seem like a good idea at the time, but can lead to an endless battle over food. Kids Health warns that negotiating over food — especially if parents are bribing their toddler to eat their main meal with the promise of a sugary dessert — can help promote unhealthy eating habits and places different “values” on food.

Bribery and negotiating over food also may work temporarily but rarely does it have long-lasting positive effects. Instead, you may find yourself faced with a battle at every meal as your child knows she has the power over what and when she eats.

When to worry

Although most toddlers go through a phase where they don’t eat or become incredibly picky about what food they like, there are times when parents should be concerned. If you have concerns around food sensitivities or allergies, stomach issues, autism, and other medical issues, you shouldn’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician. Lvova tells Healthline that its time to contact your doctor if your child exhibits any of the following behavior;

  • accepts fewer than 20 foods
  • is losing weight
  • dislikes or refuses entire food groups (grains, dairy, proteins, etc.)
  • goes for several days without eating at all
  • is committed to certain food brands or types of packaging
  • requires a different meal from the rest of the family
  • is anxious in social situations because of food
  • has a dramatic emotional response to disliked foods, such as screaming, running away, or throwing objects

It can be easy to be concerned when your toddler doesn’t eat, but it really is a common phase of development. Toddlers also experience a lot of physical growth spurts and as a result, their appetite often comes and goes in spurts as well. Keep modeling healthy eating behavior, stay on a feeding schedule, and always encourage your toddler to try new things, and hopefully, the picky eating will be a thing of the past.

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