The older toddler will be more accepting of new foods but will still have definite food preferences. Don’t be alarmed if, after eating macaroni and cheese for three months, he suddenly refuses it. He might be tired of it or is trying to tell you that he wants to try something else. Instead of making yourself crazy trying to determine what he wants, offer him new foods this way:
- Point to the food items on your own plate and ask him if he would like some. If he says yes, give him no more than a spoonful. If he likes it, he will ask for more. If he says no, eat some of the food yourself and make “yummy” sounds, but be sincere. Kids this age are wary of parental trickery! If he still doesn’t want it, move on.
- Just a nibble. If there is nothing on your plate that he wants, but he still appears hungry, give him dry cereal or cheese and crackers to nibble on. However, don’t get yourself into the habit of cooking a new meal just for this child. Children should learn to eat what is being served.
Decreased appetite can also signal an illness coming on. If your child continues to refuse to eat over two days, call your pediatrician. Most children will drink fluids even if they will not eat, so offer juices, gelatin and other liquids to keep him hydrated. Milk and milk products may be refused if the nose is stuffy because milk protein actually increases mucus production.
Set a time you expect your child to stay at the table, and be firm with your decision. After the time is up, let him go about his business.
Grazing is good.
Keep in mind that your toddler is not programmed to eat only three times a day, but rather prefers to graze. Snacks should include foods that are high in nutritional quality and should be able to be eaten quickly so that he can go back to his activities. I recommend cut-up soft fruits and vegetables, cheeses, crackers, dry cereals, milk shakes or smoothies and homemade juice pops. Time the snacks so that they don’t interfere with his appetite for the family meal, and don’t offer too much. Be aware also that little kids are busiest during the day and may prefer to have a larger lunch than dinner, especially if they go to bed early.
Learning your child’s hunger cues and eating preferences will help you avoid the stress of feeding a toddler and may also keep you from developing a “fussy eater.” Keep in mind that we have our own likes, dislikes and agendas as adults, but we have control over our meals and activities. Toddlers have to rely on you to provide these, and they are hoping you understand their wants and needs.
Susan M. Leisner RD, IBCLC, RLC Nutritionist & Lactation Consultant
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.