How to deal with a toddler who just won’t eat

Have a picky eater? Or a kid who just seems disinterested in food? A paediatrician weighs in on what to do when your toddler refuses to eat.

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My toddler just won’t eat. I sneak in snacks now and then, but she generally seems uninterested in food. How can she possibly be getting the nutrients she needs to grow?

A kid hand grabbing an egg from a plate How to get your toddler to eat more proteinMy kids and my patients know I’m very “tough love” about eating at mealtimes. Children learn to manipulate parents to get what they want, and sometimes not eating meals can be a tactic for getting a food they love. My family and I eat together every day. We all have the same plate of food, with a balanced, nutritious meal. My kids have to try everything on their plates. Usually they eat everything. If they do eat well, they get fruit, and if they eat that, they can have what they’re craving, within reason. This might be yogurt (a common favourite food for kids) or a treat, like a cookie. They will not get this option, though, if they don’t eat the food we prepared—even if it means going to bed hungry. 

Avoid offering snacks all day out of fear that they’ll starve. Many kids snack all day and then don’t have appetites for real meals. This can pose problems because snacks tend to be carb-heavy and low in protein, fibre and healthy fats. Sometimes kids must be left to get hungry so they’ll eat proper meals. Similarly, watch how much milk your child drinks. Kids older than one should have no more than 2¼ cups of milk a day. Too much and they won’t have an appetite for solids, and they’ll risk iron deficiency as well.

It’s unlikely your child will become malnourished—though iron deficiency is relatively common in picky eaters, other nutritional deficiencies are very uncommon if your child is willing to eat at least some variety. After all, so many foods in Canada, like breads and cereals, are enriched with vitamins and minerals. 

Read more:
6 tips to encourage your picky eater to actually eat
7 signs you should seek help for your picky eater

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