Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Toddlers: When Yours
Doesn't Want to Eat
How much should my
Your child's growth will slow down after he or
she is about 2 years old. The number of calories your child needs will decrease
at about this time, and so will how much he or she wants to eat. How much your
child eats may be very different from how much another child eats. Don't worry
if it seems that your child doesn't eat enough at one meal. Children often make
up for a small meal or a missed meal at the next mealtime. You'll know your
child is eating enough if he or she is growing at the right rate. Talk to your
doctor if you have any concerns about how your child is
What if my child
is a picky eater?
As long as your child is choosing nutritious
foods, you can let him or her choose what to eat. Sometimes your child may want
to eat a particular food again and again for a while, and then not want to eat
it at all. Try to let your child explore new foods on his or her own. It won't
help to insist that your child taste new foods. You may need to prepare special
servings of some foods to make sure your child gets a balanced diet. For
example, if you're making beef stew for dinner, and your child will only eat
potatoes and carrots, you may need to cook some of these vegetables separate
from the stew so that your child will eat them. You may want to make a list of
foods that your child will eat so you can make sure he or she eats a balanced
diet. Many books and computer software programs are available in bookstores and
libraries to help you figure out if your child is eating well.
How can I get my
child to eat?
Offer your child food that is tasty and looks
good, and offer the right amount. A good rule of thumb is to offer 1 tablespoon
of each kind of food for each year of your child's age. If your child is still
hungry, you can serve more. 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
Try not to bribe or force your child to eat.
Threats or punishments aren't good ideas either. If your child doesn't want to
eat, accept his or her refusal. Even though you may be concerned, don't show
your child that you are upset by this refusal to eat. If your child is seeking
attention, your disapproval fills that need, and he or she may try to gain your
attention in the same way another time.
Try to balance your child's request for a snack
with the family's need to enjoy a regular meal together. If the meal is several
hours away, you can offer a bigger snack. If the meal is in the next hour, you
may want to offer a small snack. If you give your child only a small snack,
explain to your child that the family will be eating soon.If your child doesn't
eat at one mealtime, you can offer a nutritious snack, such as fresh fruit,
vegetables or whole-grain crackers, 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 be sure that your child won't
starve or have other problems that come from a poor diet.
How can I make
You may want to try the following suggestions to
make mealtimes easier and more enjoyable:
- Tell your child that it will be time to eat soon
10 to 15 minutes before mealtime. Children may be so tired or excited from play
activities that they don't feel like eating. Giving your child a warning before
the meal will allow him or her a chance to settle down before eating.
- If possible, set regular mealtimes.
- Don't let your child play with toys during
mealtimes. Reading books or watching television shouldn't be allowed during
are pleasant, your child may begin to look forward to eating with other family
members. Try to avoid arguments during mealtime. Explain to your child how good
it is to eat together and ask him or her to stay at the table until everyone has
eaten. It may be helpful if family members always use the same seats at the
table. Be sure you don't expect manners that are too difficult for your child.
For example, don't expect a child who is 3 years old to eat with the proper
utensil. For many children, a spoon is much easier to handle than a