Parenting

When your toddler won't eat dinner

What do you do? Occasionally, Charlie just won't want to eat. He'll push his plate away and say, "No thank you" or "all done." He won't complain about being hungry or ask for food later. I don't want to force him to eat or make something special for him all the time, but I don't want him to not eat dinner either. Why are toddlers so finicky? Ugh.
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Re: When your toddler won't eat dinner

  • I'm not gonna lie, I usually bribe him.


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  • We have a firm no treats after dinner policy. So, if Rosie doesn't eat then she doesn't get anything till breakfast. If she eats all her dinner then she gets a dessert.
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  • If he doesn't eat dinner, I'll usually offer fruit at some point before bed and if he turns that down, too, then he can have some milk but that's it. I figure if he was hungry enough, he'd eat something.

  • herohero
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    My ds used to do this. His pedi said that it fine as long as the amount of food he ate over the entire week balanced out the highs and lows. I wouldn't use bribes to make your ds eat because at that age they still listen to their internal hunger cues and aren't influenced by the eating habits of others.
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  • I'm not above offering her something I know she likes just to make sure she's not hungry. She's underweight, though, so I feel compelled to try every avenue. I'll also offer the same food an hour later.

    But if she won't eat despite our best efforts, I let it go. I've heard with toddlers, it's all about averages. They may not eat three balanced meals everyday, but over the course of a few days, they get what they need. And I don't want to override her ability to listen to her own hunger cues by being the Clean Plate Club mom.
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  • It gives me slight anxiety when my kid won't eat, but I don't make a big deal out of it. He will sometimes have an after dinner snack even if he ate well so I won't refuse to feed him a couple hours later if he didn't have a good dinner, but I won't make a separate meal for him, either.
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  • image hero:
    My ds used to do this. His pedi said that it fine as long as the amount of food he ate over the entire week balanced out the highs and lows. I wouldn't use bribes to make your ds eat because at that age they still listen to their internal hunger cues and aren't influenced by the eating habits of others.

    Okay, then maybe I won't worry too much. A few days ago for dinner he ate a hamburger, a hot dog, two ears of corn, and a bowl of mango. Then tonight....nothing. Its like he stores it up or something.

    I'm trying to let his stomach guide him, but its hard to have a family meal that way. I don't want to enable grazing, but that's more natural than sitting to eat three times a day. 

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  • Sometimes I save DS1's food and if he asks for something later, I pull it back out. It depends on the meal and the saveability of it. I don't usually give him other options though. I figure he'll eat what I serve better at the next meal.
  • This is literally every.single.night for me. I've tried bribery, it rarely works. If she hasn't eaten much all day I'll give her something else. Other times, I just give up and let her go without.
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  • I say "Okay, you may leave the table." I refuse to serve alternative meals or bribe. If she doesn't want dinner, she is free to go. I've yet to see her whine about being hungry later.

    However, if I'm serving a meal I'm not sure she'll like, I make sure to put at least one thing on her plate I know she will eat, even if it's just a cheese stick. My general rule is dinner is whatever I put on your plate at the start of the meal. So I won't go grab a cheese stick because she doesn't want her chicken. To me that teaches her that if she whines enough, Mommy will just give her something else. If it's on her plate already, I see it more as "This what I'm offering for dinner. Take it or leave it."
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  • image hero:
    My ds used to do this. His pedi said that it fine as long as the amount of food he ate over the entire week balanced out the highs and lows. I wouldn't use bribes to make your ds eat because at that age they still listen to their internal hunger cues and aren't influenced by the eating habits of others.

    Logically I know this, but I'm still compelled to stick a little bite of food into his mouth occasionally when I'm worried about him starving to death.

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  • If she doesn't eat--she gets fruit for a snack/dessert.

    However, right now due to my DH hours--it is usually just her for dinner, so I either give her leftovers or have at least one thing I know she will eat.

    I also look at her last meal time. We went out for lunch after her nap--so she didn't have lunch until almost 3. Of course at dinner, she wasn't going to be hungry--she had a fairly big lunch-so I made her matzah with soy nut butter. And milk. She ate half of it--and had a graham cracker for dessert.

    However, if she eats lunch at around 11:00-11:30 like she normal does--I expect her to eat a somewhat bigger meal at dinner. 

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  • Meh if they're otherwise not underweight or other issues, sometimes they're just not hungry. If dd doesn't want to eat sometimes then we just take her plate away. She'll do it sometimes for a few days then she's back to normal.
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  • My DD is barely on the charts and I do stress about this, some days she barely eats at allmeaning skips lunch and dinner. I make sure she gets as much milk as possible but if she doesn't eat dinner I keep it out for a bit and hope for the best! She stays on the charts so unless I am told to do otherwise this is what I will keep doing. My 4.5 year old used to be the same and it sucks!
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  • I usually offer him something before bath/bed if he doesn't eat dinner. Yogurt, applesauce, half a pb sandwich, nothing exciting or treat like. I try not to make a habit out of it, and he's usually good about eating at least a portion of his dinner.
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  • image emriley84:
    I usually offer him something before bath/bed if he doesn't eat dinner. Yogurt, applesauce, half a pb sandwich, nothing exciting or treat like. I try not to make a habit out of it, and he's usually good about eating at least a portion of his dinner.

    These are all of his favorite foods that he asks for multiple times a day! lol We usually try to offer something, but he's just not interested most times. Oh well. 

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  • I agree with pp. my pedi said to watch food intake over a week instead of meal by meal.  DS is super picky.  He often will take a bite out of dinner a d be done.  He is a huge breakfast eater, so I know that he usually fills up with good stuff in the morning.  I often give him milk with Carnation powder at meals so he gets some calories and nutrients if he does not eat.  My kids always have a healthy dessert after dinner: cherries, blueberries with a little whipped cream or a fruit ice pop.  If they don't eat dinner, they still can have their dessert.  I try not to make a big deal out of it because it can become a power issue.  I also don't believe in forcing kids to eat (as long as there is no concern with weight gain).  That said, I do not do dinner alternatives. No Mac and cheese or PBJ instead of dinner.  I don't want to get into the habit of cooking 5 meals.

     I can tell you, the eating habits will change.  My step son was a seriously picky eater when he was young.  He is now 11 and will eat anything that you put in front of him (11 year old boys can EAT!) 

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  • Isla eats really well at breakfast and lunch so I don't worry about it.
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  • image Estwd2:
    I refuse to serve alternative meals or bribe. If she doesn't want dinner, she is free to go. I've yet to see her whine about being hungry later. However, if I'm serving a meal I'm not sure she'll like, I make sure to put at least one thing on her plate I know she will eat, even if it's just a cheese stick. My general rule is dinner is whatever I put on your plate at the start of the meal. So I won't go grab a cheese stick because she doesn't want her chicken. To me that teaches her that if she whines enough, Mommy will just give her something else. If it's on her plate already, I see it more as "This what I'm offering for dinner. Take it or leave it."

    Yep.

    She's healthy and not underweight, so the stakes are not that high for us.  She eats the amount she wants to eat, and I don't push the issue.  However, if she doesn't eat, she still needs to stay in her high chair until we're done.  I'll hand her some paper and crayons or something, but she stays at the table.  Yes, this means we have sat through 10 minutes of whining while we finish.  I'm not going to eat a cold dinner because her non-eating self is running around the house.

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  • I have tried to bribe C, but most times that he refuses dinner entirely, he will also refuse dessert. He will eat any sunflower or pumpkin seeds or pine nuts that I give him though.

     

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  • I find a lot of preschoolers and toddlers don't need as much food as we think. If you want him to eat dinner, cut out snacks so he can be hungry then. When DS and my older niece were that age, they ate well at breakfast and lunch and had what looked like a snack- fruit, cheese or a salad for dinner. Look at his milk intake too. Milk's a food and some who guzzle use it as a meal replacement.

     

     

  • image Scout2005:

    My DD is awful about eating. I've gotten to a point of "oh well, you'll eat in the morning." I can't force her and I'm not getting into a battle of wills/bribing her to eat the meals provided.

    I put her food in the refrigerator, and if she asks for bites I'll bring it back out and offer. That's it, in addition to a glass of milk, until morning.

    Same here, pretty much. 

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  • I feel you.  Most meals are a battle around here, and it's a major point of frustration for me.  She does need to eat, so I usually offer something else in an hour or so (if she doesn't ask), and if that fails I try bribery.
  • Then she doesn't eat.  I'll give her a cup of a milk after bath time to fill her up and that's it.  We have no weight worries though, and she eats well throughout the day.  
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  • We don't bribe. I don't want him to have that kind of connection to food. Either he eats or he doesn't. If he tries it and doesn't like it he can have something else, but most nights it is just that he isn't hungry. He's not going to starve to death.

     

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  • I've been advised by the pedi to offer meals that always have something she'll eat along with new things, but not to worry about it if she's not interested.  She recently attended a technical conference on the subject and the latest recommendations are to not make food a battle ground.  For picky eaters, pushing, bribing or otherwise trying to compel them to eat certain foods often makes them not like the food later.  It's kind of backwards from previous recommendations, but I'm trying it and it seems to be working for my picky eater.  When she has what she wants without a fight, she tends to also try the other stuff on her plate.  

    Anyway, I wouldn't worry about missing a meal here and there.  They just go through days where they aren't very hungry.  DD just went through a whole week of not eating well on travel.  When we got back she was a whole pound heavier than when we left so she was obviously getting the calories she needed and having a growth spurt.  She ate a lot of food the previous week.   

    I give up trying to get a ticker.  I have a DD that is 2.5 years old and is awesome.  Maybe I'll add a quote to distinguish myself.  Hmmm.  How about...

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  • image Scout2005:
    image izzourclue:

    I've been advised by the pedi to offer meals that always have something she'll eat along with new things, but not to worry about it if she's not interested.  She recently attended a technical conference on the subject and the latest recommendations are to not make food a battle ground.  For picky eaters, pushing, bribing or otherwise trying to compel them to eat certain foods often makes them not like the food later.  It's kind of backwards from previous recommendations, but I'm trying it and it seems to be working for my picky eater.  When she has what she wants without a fight, she tends to also try the other stuff on her plate.  


    I think it makes total sense. For us, DD is picky on top of being strong willed. She's on to bribery, and if we fight her, it becomes more about her standing her ground than it does not liking the food.

    If we just hand her the plate and go about our business, we have more success. It's not a lot of success, but it's more peaceful at least and she doesn't freak the next time we serve the same thing. 

    DD doesn't respond to pressure in any form.  She just shuts down.  Which is one reason why we aren't potty trained yet.  Her terms or no terms and her endurance is amazing!  There is also very little she cares enough about to hold over her head.  She'll probably be an amazing, smart, and independent woman, but this personality makes for a challenging toddler. 

    I give up trying to get a ticker.  I have a DD that is 2.5 years old and is awesome.  Maybe I'll add a quote to distinguish myself.  Hmmm.  How about...

    "It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" - A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
  • image Scout2005:

    izzourclue, we're being encouraged to PT to get DD out of diapers (she dealt with MRSA a month ago, and they'd love to ditch the diapers).

    They were like "bribe her with candy."

    I said "she's never had candy and won't try new foods to find out she likes it."

    To which they said "well, shot yourself in the foot there, didn't you?"

    Grumble.

    I've been trying to get her to try an M&M so she can see that she wants more. So far, not happening.  I tried stickers, but frankly ain't nobody got time to deal with a 27 mo old and stickers.

    I thought I had the only kid that wouldn't try candy or a cookie she had never seen before!  Chocolate chips are in the circle of trust though so anything obviously chocolate is ok for her.  She does make me try it first though.  I'm the royal taster. 

    I give up trying to get a ticker.  I have a DD that is 2.5 years old and is awesome.  Maybe I'll add a quote to distinguish myself.  Hmmm.  How about...

    "It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" - A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
  • DS rarely eats dinner and I've just stopped offering an alternative. If he's hungry later he can have fruit but I'm not too concerned. He doesn't have a problem with weight and he's pretty picky.
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  • image Scout2005:

    My DD is awful about eating. I've gotten to a point of "oh well, you'll eat in the morning." I can't force her and I'm not getting into a battle of wills/bribing her to eat the meals provided.

    I put her food in the refrigerator, and if she asks for bites I'll bring it back out and offer. That's it, in addition to a glass of milk, until morning.

    Yup, this is us too.
     
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