Toddler Not Eating? 12 Helpful Ways to Encourage Your Toddler to Eat

It is hard to find parents who are not worried about their toddler’s eating habits. It’s natural for parents to worry when their child does not eat anything at all, as the absence of nutrients can hamper their physical and mental development.

Furthermore, the age of 1 to 3 years is the time when toddlers learn to eat a variety of foods. So, if they fuss about eating during this time, they can become picky eaters for the rest of their lives.

We understand your concerns, which is why we have gathered some tips that can be helpful in feeding your toddlers proper meals.

Normal Eating Habits for Toddlers

First of all, you need to understand the normal food habits of toddlers. When they are over the newborn and infant phase, their food habits change drastically. Surprisingly, their growth slows down compared to when they were babies, so the need for food also decreases. So, do not worry too much if there is a minor reduction in their food intake.

Secondly, toddlers learn to walk during this age and want to explore. They are curious, spontaneous, and always running around doing different things. They have a short attention span, so they get distracted easily. And therefore, expecting them to stay still to have a proper meal is out of the question.

That being said, you can use their curiosity and distraction to your advantage and trick them into feeding them food. You can attract them using different foods, like colorful vegetables or interestingly shaped foods. You can even try many unique and interesting lunch ideas for preschoolers to lure them into eating their food.

Nonetheless, usually, there are about three possibilities with toddlers eating. Firstly, they can have quick meals as they are always distracted. Secondly, they can play with food, squish them as they learn different textures, tastes, smells, etc., and finally, they are put off by food and refuse to eat them totally.

These things are normal for toddlers. If it’s the third scenario with your toddler, then you can try the following tips to encourage your kids to eat more. But first, let us quickly tell you about the common reasons why your toddler may not be eating.

Reasons for Toddlers Refusing to Eat

Although it is normal for toddlers to eat less as they require fewer calories compared to when they were infants, you should observe your kid to know if there are any other issues involved.

There are several possibilities for toddlers to refuse to eat. Some of them are as follows.

  • Babies eat smooth foods, purees, milk, or formula. When they start eating regular solid food, they might find it difficult to eat certain types of foods.
  • Some toddlers can be sensitive to the textures of the foods. So, they can refuse to eat certain foods. They might not like the texture when they eat it, the texture when they touch it, or even the smell.
  • Toddlers start learning to chew, and they might find many foods difficult to chew. Parents need to be patient with toddlers to develop their oral-motor skills.
  • If your toddler eats snacks and drinks without any break, they are most likely to lose their appetite for meals.
  • Toddlers are incapable of expressing their pains and sufferings. So they may just refuse to eat due to some unknown pain. For instance, they can have teething, sore throat, and toothache, which can make them refuse to eat anything.
  • Constipation, acid reflux, issues with the stomach, etc., can cause toddlers to not feel like eating.
  • ●       Other than the ones above, there could be other medical issues such as stomach pain, allergies, etc., which can make toddlers refuse to eat.

12 Tips for When Toddlers Refuse to Eat Anything

Here are some tips and tricks that can be helpful in feeding your toddlers. Whether they are picky eaters or not, these are some things that are good to practice in general.

1.  Follow a Schedule for Mealtimes

Follow a schedule for meal times. Even snacks should have an allocated time. Do not try to make them eat all the time. They become more discouraged when you keep pushing them to eat all day.

Have a proper schedule for their meals, snacks, and milk. Follow the schedule and offer them food according to the scheduled time. Give them some time to eat. No matter how much they eat, remove the food after a while.

2.  Time the Meals

Like we said before, have a schedule for mealtime. Do not extend one meal time because your kid is not finishing up the food. Take the food away after a while and give the next meal according to the schedule.

Moreover, have about 2 to 3 hours in between each meal. Do not give anything in between the meals. Otherwise, they will deny eating their food.

3.  Avoid Distractions While Eating

What most parents do these days is let their toddlers be distracted by electronic devices while they are eating. It can be pretty harmful to children. They lose any interest in the food and give all their concentration to watching cartoons, videos, etc.

It would be best if you could instill a habit of not getting distracted while eating from the very beginning. However, if your toddlers are already accustomed to watching things on tablets or smartphones while eating, you can start limiting them initially. Then gradually try to stop giving your toddlers any electronic devices during mealtime.

4.  Serve the Right Portion

Remember that toddlers not finishing their food might not be a problem of theirs; maybe you are serving portions that are bigger than what they need or have an appetite for. Try serving them more reasonable portions.

If they want more, then they will ask for it. Moreover, also consider that they will always not eat a similar portion. Depending on their appetite, the amount of food they willingly consume can vary.

5.  Give Them Their Preferred Food

When toddlers refuse to eat, consider giving them food they like. Maybe they are finding chewing or eating some foods difficult. So, serve them foods that are easy for them to eat, and they enjoy eating.

6.  Avoid Mealtime Right Before Bedtime

Do not serve meals to toddlers too close to their bedtime. Before bedtime, they can be extremely tired and might not enjoy eating. They can refuse to eat when they are too sleepy. Similarly, do not serve meals right after or right before physical activity.

7.  Do Not Force Them to Eat

One mistake many parents make is they force their toddlers to eat. Parents think pressuring them to finish their meals will work, but it does not.

Toddlers will eat as much as they need to satisfy their hunger, even if they do not finish the meal.

When you push toddlers to eat, they may become put off by food and the experience of eating. You should not force your toddler but try to influence their behavior incrementally. This is especially crucial for disciplining sensitive children.

8.  Prepare Meals with Toddlers

Toddlers are always eager to do and learn new things. Preparing their meals with them can be a good way to increase their interest in the food. Prepare meals with your children and encourage them to try new things.

If they become excited during the meal prep, they are more likely to be excited to eat them too.

9.  Have Meals Together

A great way to encourage toddlers to eat is by eating together with family. When they observe everyone around them eating, they will feel like eating too. Keep chatting and encouraging your toddler to try the foods.

Moreover, it is good practice for children of any age group to eat with everyone else as a family. It is a great way to bond as well.

10. Determine an Eating Spot

A good practice is to have a particular spot to eat every meal. Purchase a highchair or whatever you find suitable for your toddler and have that placed in one spot. Maybe beside the dining table where the rest of the family eats.

Having toddlers eat in the same spot helps them avoid distraction. Consistency in their meal setup helps them with their eating habits and meal schedules. They become less likely to throw a fit while eating.

11. Let Toddlers Make a Mess

Similar to not putting pressure to finish their meals, you should also not force them to have table manners. Toddlers are not mature enough to understand that. During this time, they learn about foods, textures, smells, tastes, etc. They squeeze, squish, and make a mess to understand the concept of food. Moreover, sensory and motor development come from the experience they have while eating.

Let them make a mess and eat the way you want. You can teach them table manners a bit later in their life. Consider this phase as the learning to eat phase, not the how to eat phase.

12. Observe Your Toddlers Eating Style

Keep observing your toddler’s eating habits. You will understand what they like, what they don’t like, whether they are having any problems with certain foods, do they need more meals in a day, and so on.

You can readjust their meal schedule and meal ideas based on your observation. Moreover, you can identify any underlying problem at an early stage if you keep noticing the changes in your toddler.


Toddlers refusing to eat once in a while is completely normal, and you do not have to worry about it. They will eat when they are hungry and ask for more food. However, if your toddlers refusal to eat has reached a severe stage, you can follow the tips above to encourage them to eat more or have proper meals.

If they fail to yield the desired results, you should consult a pediatrician as soon as possible as your child may be suffering from a serious medical condition that inhibits their desire or ability to eat.


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