My toddler refuses to eat.

When my toddler was a baby, they ate anything and everything. Now that they’re a toddler? Whole new ballgame!

Dear Is This Normal

When my toddler was a baby, they ate anything and everything without a problem. Rarely refused foods, was open to trying new flavors and textures, and was generally a dream at mealtimes. Now that they’re a toddler? Whole new ballgame! They fight my partner and I at every meal, refuse to eat anything we serve, and more often than not, eating turns into one big temper tantrum. I’m tired of fighting my toddler over food and I’m even more tired of losing most of the time. Help!


Food Fighter

Dear Food Fighter,

Before we get into the nitty gritty, can I just say: fighting with, and losing to, your tiny humans is the worst! Just the pits. What a blow to the ol’ ego, am I right? These kids really know how to go the full 12 rounds, and most of the time I am more than willing to raise the white flag just to escape with at least a sliver of my dignity intact.

But onto the food! This is so incredibly normal, Fighter. Soooooooo normal. It sucks, I get it! But you are not the only parent sitting at the dinner table, head hung in defeat, while your toddler gobbles down Goldfish crackers and an applesauce pouch with a full meal (star-cut, crustless sandwich and all) laid out before them.

The thing about toddlers is that is sort of what they do. Just…in general. Their little brains are developing in leaps and bounds, and they have all these new skills and emotions and words and thoughts, but they don’t really know how to use them. It’s gotta be frustrating AF, you know? So what’s a small human supposed to do? They do what they know how to do: they rage. They exert whatever tiny bit of control they have over any given situation. Whether it’s refusing to wear pants, not wanting to eat when it’s time to eat, or deciding that bedtime is a good time to rearrange every single book on their shelf. This is your toddler trying to test out their independence and push the boundaries—it’s not necessarily an act of defiance and they’re not doing it to piss you off, it’s just one they can flex their muscle, so to speak.

These muscle flexes can be particularly hard to deal with when it comes to stuff that can impact your little one’s health and development, though. Like food! They have to eat, and they need to get enough nutrients and calories to sustain their growth. This is also peak time to help your toddler develop healthy eating habits they’ll carry with them into childhood, adolescence, and beyond. So how can you accomplish that without dinner devolving into a screamfest? One way, according to psychotherapist Dr. Shlomit Rubin, is to turn mealtime into family time. Toddlers really benefit from shared meal times; they are more likely to try and eat new foods when they see their parents and siblings eating them, they enjoy the interaction with their family, and it can create a routine that toddlers thrive on. Aside from creating a family-oriented mealtime routine, says Dr. Rubin, it can help to give your toddler some choice (or control!) over what they eat. Give them options to choose from, or involve them in the selection and preparation of what ends up on the menu. Finally, make food something they experience with all their senses. Encourage them to smell their food, talk about the different colors and textures on their plate, and let them eat with their hands. Maybe not soup, but you get the idea! The more involved your toddler is in mealtime, from picking to prepping to fully experiencing their food, the more opportunities they have to express their newfound independence.

Mama to mama, I know how anxiety-inducing it can be when your kid fights you at every turn and you’re worried about them getting all the nutrition they need. And while our instinct may be to try to exert MORE control over this particular aspect of raising a toddler, this is one time that letting go a bit can really pay off.

Fighting the Good (Food) Fight,

Is This Normal


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