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!
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.
More On Children’s Eating Habits
- How To Avoid Power Struggles At Meals With Children
- Children’s Eating Habits – We Have A Lot To Learn…
- 18 Month Baby Refuses To Eat
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.
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.
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians who assist in reviewing and writing articles.