Tips for Parents With Toddlers Who Refuse to Eat Dinner

Sitting down to a family meal may be one of those times when you want to relax and enjoy the company of loved ones. Unfortunately, toddlers don’t always cooperate with this plan. If you have a toddler on an eating strike, refusing to eat dinner, resolve the matter carefully so you don’t make it worse.

Remember the Bottom Line

Although you may know all about vitamins and minerals and the nutritional needs of your toddler, this knowledge doesn’t put you in the driver’s seat when it’s time to eat. Your job involves preparing nutritious and appealing food for your child and serving it to her for meals and snacks, advises Judy More, registered dietician and registered nutritionist. Beyond this, your toddler is in charge of how much, if any, she eats.

Appropriate Portions

Toddlers are not big people. It can be easy for adults to heap too much food onto a toddler’s plate. An appropriate toddler-size portion of food is about two-thirds of an adult portion, advise LaVona Traywick and James P. Marshall, assistant professors with the University of Arkansas 12. Don’t forget -- toddlers may also have a hard time with new foods. Proceed slowly to give your child a chance to warm up to new cuisine.

Possible Reasons for Not Eating

A toddler might refuse dinner for a variety of reasons, states More. Possible reasons include skipping a nap and feeling overtired, excessive distractions, not feeling well and not liking the foods offered. You will also get informative cues that she’s done eating when she starts throwing food, slows her eating pace or starts trying to get up from the table, counsels Heather Dodds, with the University of Louisville website 2.

Keep it Positive

Just as providing nutritious and appealing food for your child is your responsibility, so is creating a positive and loving mealtime environment. Engaging in food battles where you attempt to force your child to eat could lead to habitual mealtime struggles, food aversions and even obesity if your child overeats regularly. Instead, affirm your toddler’s ability to determine whether he’s hungry and wants to eat. If he doesn’t want to eat, just end the meal without issue and trust that your toddler will let you know when he does want to eat, by fussing, tugging on the refrigerator door or even telling you verbally.