“My toddler refuses to eat!”

The amount of food Pumpkin is able to consume in one sitting is so shocking at times that my husband and I will do a play-by-play analysis: “First she ate a whole banana! Then she reached for the cheese! I lost count with how many slices she had! Then, she actually asked for more chicken, TWICE!” We’ll swear she ate more than the two of us combined.

The next day, she might take one bite of dinner and throw her usually beloved pasta on the floor.

We get lots of calls on our HaltonParents phone line from parents feeling exasperated by their toddler’s food refusal.

First, it’s important to note that around one year of age, it’s normal to see changes in your baby’s feeding behaviours, including:

  • A decreased appetite
  • Variations in the amounts of food they eat from day to day
  • Ever-changing food preferences
  • Increased need for independence and a desire to feed themselves

Veggies for dinnerHere are our top 10 tips on dealing with food refusal:

  1. It’s okay if your toddler skips the occasional meal or snack. Remember the Holy Grail of feeding your child: You decide what, when and where food is served. Your baby or child decides how much to eat and whether he even eats at all.
  2. Never pressure, bribe or negotiate with your child to eat more than he wants.  It’s normal for them to eat different amounts of food each day.
  3. If your child is not eating after a reasonable amount of time, take the food away without comment. Don’t be a short-order cook.
  4. Patience, patience, patience. Kids take longer than us to eat. Usually 20 or 30 minutes is long enough. Just don’t rush them.
  5. Have regular times for meals and snacks (usually three meals and two to three snacks per day), but don’t allow snacking or “grazing” in between. Offer water instead of juice if they are thirsty.
  6. If you find yourself being pulled into a food battle, stop. Breathe, and remember you cannot and will not win. Read Tips #1, 2 & 3 again.
  7. Offer your toddler what you are eating and make healthy food choices yourself! Try to ensure at least one item is something they like. Follow Canada’s Food Guide and try to ensure each meal includes something from 3-4 food groups. For snacks, aim for food from at least 2 food groups.
  8. When introducing a new food, offer a small amount first and offer other food your child usually likes.  It may take 10-15 times before a new food is accepted.
  9. It is best if there are no toys or television to distract your toddler. Eat as a family, keep it low-stress and fun!
  10. Remember “…and this too shall pass.” The food refusal will one day stop. The food throwing will one day stop. The less attention you pay to negative behaviours, the less likely they will be repeated.

The early years is a time when feeding can be very challenging.  Nutrition screening, such as NutriSTEP Screening Tool – can identify potential nutrition problems before they become serious. If you find yourself trying to convince your little one to eat, read this now.  If you have concerns about your child’s nutrition or their growth pattern, talk with your child’s health care provider. If you are struggling with a picky eater, check out Paula’s post, Beware the dreaded, fearsome, blood-curdling… PICKY EATER!!

Can you relate? To share your story, or for more tips on your toddler’s food refusal, there are many ways to connect with us:

  • Leave us a comment below
  • Tweet with us @haltonparents
  • Email us at haltonparents@halton.ca
  • Call the HaltonParents line for parenting information or to speak directly to a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you'll find me on Facebook, Twitter and on this blog, writing about all things parenting. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to write about! :)
This entry was posted in Babies, Feeding Your Baby in the First Year, Healthy Eating for Toddlers & Preschoolers, Parenting, Parenting Your Baby, Parenting Your Toddler & Preschooler, Toddlers & Preschoolers and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “My toddler refuses to eat!”

  1. Pingback: Are you contributing to mealtime mania? | HaltonParents

  2. Pingback: Introducing solids to your baby: myths vs. facts | HaltonParents

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