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It is common for toddlers to be picky and decisive! What should you do when a toddler refuses to eat? Here’s how to make a toddler eat by choosing fun over fight!

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Mom’s Question:
My toddler stopped eating, and I am worried! Here’s the situation:

I have a 21-month-old daughter who barely eats anything – ever. She will take a couple of bites of something, then refuse to touch anything else or eat another bite of anything, period! She is constantly drinking and still takes her bottles. I have tried to give her milk in a cup, and she won’t take it; I have tried to give her a bottle to hold to feed herself, but she won’t do it!

She will only drink milk if it’s in a bottle, and I am giving it to her. If that’s the only way she’ll eat, then so be it!

But I am so worried about the not eating thing; she has always eaten lots of food, and it has slowly tapered off, and now it’s barely anything. I have tried everything; what do I do?

(Buchanan, MI. U.S.)

Normal or Not for a Toddler to Not Want to Eat?

I know it is worrying when a child doesn’t do what we think is best for them. As Moms, we want our kids to thrive, and it is concerning when we think they aren’t getting enough food.

Firstly, your daughter knows exactly what she needs – you! Being cuddled and nestled up with her Mom is the best thing for her right now.

Don’t worry about the amount of solid foods she is eating; Getting into a battle with it all will just make you more stressed and her unhappy and can set up food issues. The only reason to actually worry is if she shows signs of deficiencies or illness. Is she growing and reaching her milestones? If so, then try to relax.

All babies and children go through stages of not eating much. Even adults! We sometimes will go for a few days not feeling like much to eat. We worry about our children because we are the ones providing all their needs while they are little. Just relax with it all, and most of all, enjoy her. She will get back to eating again!

When my kids were tiny, they sometimes would only eat the same food for days and say no to everything else! Toddlers are learning to assert some power and want to have some control over their environment. Food is a classic area where parents get into a power struggle with their babies. The best way to shortcut that battle is to opt out of it!

Choose fun over a battle any day!

Relaxing Ideas when Your Toddler Stopped Eating

Here are some ideas for offering food in fun ways. Don’t even ask her if she wants to eat it; just have it available within reach.

1. Smiley faces and food art

Make a smiley face out of fruit or vegetables, and she can pick up pieces when she wants.

Or make a small food plant from a cucumber or carrot. Put pieces of cheese, fruits, sausages, or anything she likes on toothpicks (break off the edges) that you stick into the vegetable to create a “plant.” Place it within reach so she can grab a piece when she wants to.

2. Tea Party

Arrange a little tea or coffee party with her dolls or teddy bears and have little pieces of fruit or cheese or cooked veggies in a little container among the tea set or inside something so she has to work to get it out.

3. Make a Feeding Game

Make a game out of it, feed Teddy, feed Mommy, feed Daddy, but Don’t feed the baby … unless she asks for some, too.

4. Let Her Feed Herself and Use Her Fingers and Hands (If She Wants To)

My kids were much more likely to eat finger food than having a full bowl in front of them. My daughter never liked to be fed; she always wanted to do it herself! (Find ideas on healthy, safe finger foods here. )

My youngest son preferred to eat with his hands rather than a spoon for the longest time. If he was allowed to eat with his hands, he ate without a fuss.

5. Food In The Bath

Give her food in the bath! (don’t worry; it’s no less hygienic than the tray on her high chair!) Give her bits of apple, carrot, cucumber, etc. (Toast and muesli don’t work too well! :-) You can make a game here, too, and let the apple bits ride in a little boat to visit your toddler. Make up a story.

6. Food Parcels

Wrap up little parcels of food in tinfoil or paper – a few grapes, some carrots, a tiny sandwich. Let her discover them in the toy box. (just keep track of where you put them!)

7. Make Sure to Stay Positive

Make sure YOU are happy and positive while you’re eating your food. Research has shown that kids exposed to positive family meals and a variety of foods will develop healthier eating habits. So, if you’re having a great time while eating, your daughter will most likely become interested in participating over time when food is associated with a positive experience. Don’t force her; just let her see and experience the positive situation (and interesting foods).

I hope this gives you some ideas, but most of all, just relax and have fun with her; that is the best nourishment you can give her. She is getting plenty of calories with the milk, and she will eat again, I promise! You won’t be bottle-feeding a 12-year-old! :-)

Here is another similar question answered in which the feeding has become a major power struggle and how to reverse that toxic situation.

Have Fun,

More On Children’s Eating Habits

If your toddler stopped eating or you have any ideas on how to solve the situation, go ahead and add your comments below! You can find many more toddler feeding tips here.

playful tips when toddler refuses to eatPin

Research References:

Scaglioni S, De Cosmi V, Ciappolino V, Parazzini F, Brambilla P, Agostoni C. Factors Influencing Children’s Eating Behaviours. Nutrients. 2018 May 31;10(6):706. doi: 10.3390/nu10060706. PMID: 29857549; PMCID: PMC6024598.

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Sana

    My 21 months old son has stopped taking milk bottles all of the sudden and he is not taking milk even in cup and also not eating yogur. Though he live eating yogurt and taking his milk and overnight he has stopped. I an really worried because he is not good in eating solid food as well. He will just eat one or two bite or spoons of anything offered to him.
    What should I do i want him to take milk at least once in a day.

    1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

      Hi Sana,

      Is all his other eating unchanged? In such a case, it can simply be completely normal toddler picky behavior. Although the calcium, protein and D-vitamin are important nutrients in milk, they are also available in other foods, such as cheese, tofu, leefy greens, salmon and oranges.

      You can also try to sneak milk, cream, or yogurt into e.g. a smoothie, a cereal bowl, some pasta sauce, and so on. Try to be creative! DOes he like oatmeal porrige? Try cooking it with milk instead of water!

      What happens if you give him finger foods or simply allows him to feed himself even if it gets messy? My youngest was super picky at that age, and it certainly helped when he was allowed to feed himself without any pressure at all. He prefered to use his hands… It get very messy for sure, but he ate more!

      If your son loses interest in eating after just a couple of bites, make sure to make healthy foods available often. It is quite common for toddlers to not want to sit down and eat for very long. Life is too exciting! Combine with this toddlerhood being a picky age, we really need to be creative, stay away from power struggles, and make food fun and and easy.

      I hope this helps!

  2. Bharathi

    Hi Paula
    Very informative tip..I appreciate the confidence shown through your experience.. each and every 2yr old passes through this stage..and those moms if they read your suggestions they will regain their peace of mind.. thanks a lot

  3. Amy Lu

    I really like that you suggest not stressing over a toddler not eating. I think this is very normal for children to go through. I have found putting a variety of food on my child’s plate, even if I don’t think she will eat it helps. She often surprises me.

  4. Tanvi

    Your ideas are so relaxing, gives motivation to try new, removes all the tension.

    Happy to read your suggestions,

  5. Erin Nichols

    My daughter is the exact same way! She rarely eats, and sometimes I get really frustrated, but most of the time I just try and remember that she knows when she is a hungry and will eat when it’s the right time. I haven’t tried most of your strategies, but I will be using a few of them in the near future.

  6. Emily Bendler

    These are great tips. My son goes through phases of eating more and eating less. It all evens out in the end. We just try to have mostly healthy option available so that when he does eat, its good food.

    1. Paula Dennholt

      I agree, Emily. Kids don’t tend to starve themselves for real. It’s much better to try to have a relaxed perspetive and offer healthy alternatives when they do actually eat. Thanks for reading!

  7. Dani Adams

    I know I will be referencing this in the near future.

    1. Paula Dennholt

      I’m glad to hear that, Dani! Thanks for reading! :-)