Toddler Eating Problems & Refusing To Eat

Updated March 8, 2019
Toddler Eating Problems & Refusing To Eat

Are you struggling to get your toddler to eat at meal times? Are they picky eaters that refuse to eat certain foods that are essential for maintaining a healthy balanced diet?

The reality is that picky eating is an extremely common occurrence in toddlers and young children. Regardless, kids that refuse to eat can be an extremely frustrating experience for parents and can be a major cause of worry, anxiety, and stress.

There are many causes of toddler eating problems and refusing to eat. By being aware of some of the most common issues, you can potentially improve things by putting into practice some very easy and effective solutions.

Toddler Eating Problems Identified 

The first step is to try and identify the root cause of your toddlers eating problems. Here are some of the most common issues experienced by parents.

Your Toddler is Asserting Their Independence 

First of all, it’s important to consider that your toddler’s refusal to eat anything at all or picky behavior may not necessarily be food related, or maybe not entirely. At such a young age, many kids have more than food on their mind and they are going through an intense process of learning and development.

At this age, it’s common for tots to begin experimenting with their own independence and sense of control. Since much of what they do is heavily controlled by mom and dad, mealtime is one area where toddlers feel they can really let loose.

Your Child is a Picky Eater 

After being used to a milk based diet since birth, the transition to solid foods can take some getting used to. As a result, the majority of toddlers are often called picky eaters and will often have trouble accepting and eating certain types of food. This is a perfectly normal part of every child’s development.

Children often find the textures, smells, tastes, and shapes of new foods strange and it may take them some time for them to get used to them. Here are some of the major signs that you may be dealing with a picky eater:

  • Refusing to eat foods of a particular texture, color, taste or smell
  • Only willing to eat a few foods and eating nothing else
  • Losing interest in foods they used to enjoy eating

Too Many Treats & Snacks

Often toddlers and young children completely refuse to eat certain foods, especially vegetables and foods that are not sweet or soft. Often this is caused by parents giving them too many snacks and treats throughout the day.

This can have two main effects, it can leave them feeling full so that they don’t feel hungry come meal time, but it can also give them the wrong impression. For example, they may believe that can refuse to eat certain foods to be given their favorite foods or snacks instead.

If not nipped in the bud, this behavior can lead to a vicious cycle of manipulation, where concerned parents will often give in to a child refusing to eat anything.

Dinner Table Pressure 

If your toddler is refusing to eat certain foods, it can be tempting to apply the pressure in order to encourage them to eat. However, this method may not always be a wise move since it can lead to negative effects.

If you pressure your child in to eating food or push them past their natural appetite they may actually end up eating more than they should. Not only can this lead to health issues such as obesity, but it’s inherently cruel.

It may also damage their relationship with food and possibly make them associate mealtimes with previous negative experiences, making them even more likely to have a hard time at the dinner table.

Too Much of the Same Food 

Just like adults, toddlers and kids can get bored of eating the same thing all the time, which can lead to a depressed appetite and general lack of interest in food.

It can also lead to them only eating the food they like, leaving the rest behind. This can sometimes appear like they are not eating, but they probably are, just not a healthy variety.

Toddler Eating Problems Solutions 

Thankfully, there are many practical steps you can take to improve your toddlers eating habits. They may not result in success overnight, but with persistence and a little patience, they can certainly make a genuine difference.

Involve them in Food Preparation

If your toddler is involved in the food preparation they are more likely to feel an attachment to their food and eat it. You can also allow them to choose their own food at the mall or grocery store. The more they are involved in the overall process, the better!

Let Them Choose Their Servings 

A large plate of vegetables can be very overwhelming to a young child who has never eaten them before. Instead, you may find more success by serving small portions of a variety of different foods on the same plate.

This will give your child lots of opportunities to experiment with different types of textures, tastes, and smells. This is also a great way to discover what they enjoy and you never know, they might ask for some more if they really like it.

Be Patient with Your Toddler 

Remember that applying pressure can lead to negative consequences such as avoidance or overeating. Instead, give your child enough time to get used to the new food you want them to eat.

Children may not accept new foods straight away or the first few times in fact. But don’t give up trying, just persevere and they may eventually grow to like the taste and texture.

Make Food Fun 

Instead of serving the same boring looking vegetables and bland carbohydrates, you can spice things up a little by cutting the food into shapes. For example, you might want to grate carrots and cut potatoes into shapes and arrange them on the plate in an engaging way. Silly faces often work well.

Establish a Routine 

If you plan your weekly mealtime schedule you can really help improve common issues such as over-snacking and a lack of variety. Ideally, you should plan a certain time of the day for each meal and stick to it, this will allow your child to get used to the idea of regular mealtimes.

Since many parents appease their kid’s appetites with snacks and sweets, proper planning can also help. This will avoid your child becoming full and losing their appetite before mealtimes and will ensure they are maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.

Limit The Types of Snacks & Portions

Since toddlers have small stomachs and anatomies they will often get full very quickly. This means that giving your toddler too many snacks throughout the day can leave them feeling full come dinner time. Moreover, snacks that contain too many calories can also have the same effect.

Instead, try to limit the number of snacks to just 2 items a day and in between the recommended 3 meals. Also, choose snacks that are healthy, well balanced and not too filling.

Healthy snacks include yogurts, fruit, and lean meats. Also, avoid serving snacks close to meal times, serve a few hours before meals or shortly after a meal if your child didn’t eat too much of their dinner.

Balanced Diet’s for Toddlers 

If you are unsure about the types of foods to feed your toddler, then The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website ChooseMyPlate.gov provides some very helpful information about nutrition for children and adults.

If you do have serious concerns about your toddlers eating habits, then it’s always recommended that you seek advice from your doctor.

Final Words 

If you are struggling with toddler eating problems or a toddler that has stopped eating, there are often many easy and effective solutions.

Firstly, you need to identify what may be causing the issue, whether that be a poor choice, pressure or over snaking. Only then can you make the necessary changes to ensure dinner time success.

Do you have a picky eater? What worked for you? Let us know if you have any tips you think people may find useful.
Toddler Eating Problems

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