How do I get my picky toddler to eat more?
Real Mom Problem
“My toddler won't eat anything. The doctor told me it's a phase and I should let her eat when she wants, but I can't just sit back and not feed my kid.”
- 1. Be sure to keep portions small; about a quarter of an adult size serving
- 2. Offer a variety of healthy, balanced foods throughout the week and don't focus too much on what your toddler eats in one day
- 3. If your toddler is active, healthy, and growing, don't worry too much about how much they're eating and keep in mind that picky eating is normal toddler behavior
- 4. Talk with your pediatrician if you have concerns about your picky toddler's health or development
- 5. Healthy snacks, in between meals are important for active toddlers, but don't give snacks too close to meal time
- 6. Don't compare your toddler's eating habits to other children's
- 7. Establish mealtime routines and make sure your toddler stays at the table with the family, even if they choose not to eat. If mealtime is pleasant, your toddler is more likely to look forward to the family time and therefore eat more.
Real Mom Solutions
Try Not to Worry
It's common for toddlers to eat next to nothing for a few days then eat a lot. Their stomachs are only the size of their tiny fists. Parents all too often don't understand really how little food a toddler needs.
My oldest hardly eats. I've discussed my concerns with his pediatrician. He just tells me that as long as he is not losing weight or falling on the curve he will be ok. However, like you, I have a hard time just accepting this. We give him Pediasure to give him the extra nutrients and calories so that he does not lose weight. Keep giving your child meals and snacks. When she is hungry, she will eat. I leave things on the table (such as crackers, cereal, veggies, or other finger foods) for my son to graze on. He doesn't feel pressured and will pick up a couple while he is playing.
I don't force my children to eat, and I don't do food battles. They will eat when they get hungry. This has always been my philosophy and I truly believe that it's why neither are picky and we never have an issue with meals.
Be Strategic in Your Approach to Food
I would use structure of meals as your secret weapon. Tell your daughter she never has to eat but you want her to join you at the table for meals and snacks. Don't ask her if she'll eat just say it's time to come to the table now. Provide her with a variety of food: 3-4 food groups at meals and 1-2 at snack time.
I've found that commenting on what she's eating, just calling attention to it, even if I'm complimenting her on eating something, will make her stop eating it. So I try to not make any comments at all. That worked better for us.
My daughter is a fairly good eater, but she does not like eating dinner, no matter what is served. It could be the same thing she scarfed down for lunch and she will still pick at it. So I have resorted to making sure she gets the largest portion of nutrients and variety before 3 pm so that if she doesn't eat her dinner, it is not a big deal nutrition wise. I really think she is often just not hungry in the evenings.
My 4 year old does not have a big appetite and only eats small portions. His pediatrician recommended that he eats high calorie foods. Also, if your child is drinking a lot of milk during the day, try to cut back. Instead of giving her a full cup, only give her half.
Here is what I did with my son: First I would tell him to come eat and he almost always says "I'm not hungry", "I don't want to eat", or even "I'm tired of eating." That's when I tell him I want to race! Yes I know some of you are probably thinking "lady you are crazy" but honestly we don't eat like we are having a race, we eat at a normal pace and see who gets done first. He loves it because he almost always wins!
Try Hand Feeding (No, Really!)
My daughter is 3 and we've been dealing with this for a long time. She's what they call a low-volume eater. The only thing that works when she is not eating is putting food in her mouth for her. I find it awful that I need to do this at her age (she should be a total self-feeder at this point) but she just doesn't care about food and it's more important for me to get something into her than about how that happens.
I hand feed my son often. He loves it, and eats so much better when I help him. He is completely capable, but prefers the help. Sometimes you have to ignore what's expected, and do what works.
My daughter is almost three, and sometimes I have to do this for her too. She has major attention issues, and gets side tracked talking and such at the dinner table and won't eat, but if I hand her a fork full of food she will eat it, so sometimes that is just how it goes. I don't understand it, but it works. Either that or I have to constantly remind her "take a bite of food honey."