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Toddler Food Wars: Dinnertime Hunger Strike Edition

Toddler Food Wars: Dinnertime Hunger Strike Edition

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

So I have an eating issue that I am not sure you have covered. My daughter is three and a half. She’s around the 25th percentile for height, and about the 5th for weight. She’s 28 pounds. Teeny tiny. The doctor isn’t too concerned — she is growing slowly, but growing, and I’m from small stock. Still. She ain’t got a pound to lose, is all I’m saying.

She’s never been a big eater, but most of what she did like to eat were fruits and veggies, with occasional whole carbs (she asks for “the brown bread” and refuses white). Not a big meat eater, but we used to be able to get her to eat sausage, bacon, and eggs.

Note the last tense.

She has now decided she will not eat dinner. At all. Nothing, no matter what it is. This is not a sudden thing — she’s always had a tendency to flake out one night, but she always seemed to be ok. (She would eat all day and I’d be ok with her not being hungry — or she’d eat a lot the next day.) She still eats snacks, breakfast, and lunch ok.

It’s my policy not to short order cook for her, because we all know that’s a no no, but … If she does this more than one night in a row, She can’t make it through the night without dinner. She wakes up at 3 am hungry, and can’t go back to sleep, and so I’m up too. For an hour, or two. And mama needs her sleep. (Note: she sleeps GREAT, through the night, when she eats.) and without food and sleep, she is a nightmare, and she gets more and more crabby and then doesn’t eat the next day and …. Gah. More of the same.

So we have decided that sleep is important, as is breaking the cycle, and we’ve been making her her own dinners. Also — see above — she can’t really afford to lose any weight. We don’t make anything elaborate — toast with cheese and an apple. But now — we will do this, and she knows it, and still refuses to eat dinner. Even if it’s something she would willingly eat at lunch. And I’m tired of making two meals and catering to her, but also tired of being woken by a hungry kid. How do I get out of this cycle? Or is this just something I have to wait out?

Any ideas???!

Thank you!!

After reading your question, I immediately reached for my trusted, beat-up, dog-eared copy of How To Get Your Kid To Eat…But Not Too Much and had a good laugh when it miraculously opened to the appropriate chapter all on its own. “Chapter 9: Is Your Toddler Jerking You Around At the Table?”

It opened to that chapter because I have read that dang chapter so many, many times. With each of my toddlers (and on behalf of many Advice Smackdownateers’ toddlers), when they all went through some random power trip at the table. Because yes, your toddler IS jerking you around at the table. The table is where just about every toddler ever decides to start asserting themselves and testing limits and seeing exactly what they can get away with. They’re too young to steal your car keys, but they are the perfect age to say “I won’t eat” and watch you dance like a frustrated monkey.

I just read the chapter again about a month ago, when my 2-year-old decided to refuse about 75% of his previously accepted foods. And then he stopped eating dinner altogether. (Sound familiar?) And THEN he stopped eating lunch. Lunch!! Who has a problem with LUNCH, I ask you? He’d wake up and eat breakfast (milk, fruit, dry cereal, maybe a waffle/pancake — farewell to the days of scrambled eggs and yogurt and sausage and bacon!). He’d have a mid-morning snack at preschool (usually more fruit and some kind of cracker-based carb), and then…yeah. That was it for the day, more or less. He’d drink a little milk and pick at whatever modest lunch item I laid out and then take a long afternoon nap. He’d wake up and skulk around the kitchen — but then refuse whatever snack I offered in a grumpy fit. And then STILL, he wouldn’t eat dinner. Milk (cow or unsweetened almond) was the only thing he’d accept post-nap…and even withholding that never led to him eating anything off his plate. It just pissed him off and made him even MORE determined to push his plate away.

That’s…um, not a lot of food. It worried me. I got paranoid that he was losing baby fat and leaning out because of a caloric deficit (rather than just A Thing That Happens Around This Age). I knew he had to be hungry (one time I found him in my office with a bag of raw almonds I keep there for my snack, stuffing his cheeks frantically like a chipmunk), but the act of sitting at the table with delicious, toddler-appropriate food in front of him invariably triggered his best power-play moves and he’d flat-out refuse to eat a bite.

So I let him.

I told him the rules were that he had to sit and stay at the table. If he got up, he’d be returned his seat. If he got up again he had a time out. Third time meant he was going in his high chair and buckled. He was not being disciplined for NOT EATING, by the way. That was okay and totally his call. He did not have to eat. But he had to follow the family rule that we sit and keep each other company until mealtime is over.  (I admit it’s probably easier for me to hold firm now, with multiple children: Not only have I played this game before and KNOW that no child in my house is going to waste away to nothingness, can you IMAGINE the uprising if I caved for one kid and not the others?)

It took a month. A long, annoying month. A couple nights ago I made chicken breasts with creamed leeks and dutifully put some small bites in front of him. Even the dog was like, U KNOW HE WON’T EAT THAT JUST GIMME ALREADY. Hand to God, he ate three helpings. He inhaled three helpings.

Since then, his portions have mostly been tiny little toddler-sized portions, but he is indeed EATING more things, more regularly. Growth spurt? Probably. But I think he also got tired of the one-sided game and moved on to the next thing. (Which appears to be potty-related, HUZZAH SEND WINE SOB.)

So, my first piece of advice is, as always, to please please please buy Ellyn Satter’s book and read Chapter 9 yourself. Not only is it chock full of advice that WORKS, it will also help you — as the kids today say — calm yo tits about how much your kid isn’t eating. I will shamelessly crib from it here but I promise the book is better.

Your doctor isn’t worried about your daughter’s weight and neither am I. And neither should you. I can guaran-dang-tee she’s getting enough calories even with skipping dinner. They might not all be super-awesome-non-carb calories, but she’s getting enough to sustain her body’s development and growth. A toddler’s portion size is less than 1/4th of what adults eat — and remember that most of us are eating portions that are much bigger than recommended. (Fun/horrifying experiment: Google around for recommended portions sizes in ounces, for both you and your 3-year-old. Then buy a digital kitchen scale and see those portion sizes live and in person. Hahahahaaaaaaaomg.)

Satter’s book comes with all kinds of awesome graphs and charts to help with portion/calorie planning, snack choices and vitamin sources. A child your daughter’s age only needs about 600 calories a day to cover her basic needs. That’s NOTHING, man. Especially for a diet of high-cal fruits and carbs. Obviously, she can eat more than that every day (to a max of about 1,200), especially if you’re hoping to pack on some weight. But like you said, the reality is that this is just her body type and metabolism. You could stuff her with the max calories every day and she’d just burn them off. (Ask me about my 37-pound 5-year-old who eats as much as I do, compared to my 30-pound 2-year-old who just finished up a month-long hunger strike. Kids’ bodies make no sense.) Likewise, she can restrict herself to the bare minimum for a fairly long time and not lose weight or suffer health problems either.

This dinner thing is a pure power play, and one that (in her mind) is worth playing even if she’s a skosh on the hungry side. In fact, that probably makes it even MORE worth playing, because it tests the limits even further, into the Toddler Danger Zone. Whattaya gonna do, Mama? I’m HUNGRY but I won’t eat. I LOVE this toy but I’m gonna throw it on the floor so it breaks. I’m SCARED of big cars but I’m gonna run out in the street. Same deal. Unlike running into the street, she’s not really in danger here. But parental limits are needed all the same.

So what you need to do is work around the rules of her game — while never letting on that you’re “playing.” Since she’s eating breakfast, lunch and snacks okay, I am 100% confident that she is getting enough food and will not. lose. weight, but if you can’t shake the nerves, go ahead and serve her a little more at those meals. Add some cheese to her snack crackers; see if she’ll eat two waffles instead of one. Make her a fruit/veggie smoothie/milkshake every now and then. Don’t restrict her food throughout the day in hopes of making her more hungry at dinner (since that clearly has nothing to do with her reasons for not eating), but stick to your established meal/snack schedule.

At dinner time, incorporate “her” foods into “your” meal. Add some whole wheat bread or dinner rolls to the table. Chop up the apples and put them on top of your salad, or serve plain fruit as a side dish. Make some brown rice or pasta to accompany your protein. You guys eat a little bit of it too. Thus, her short-order cooking expectation won’t become a habit, you’re not technically cooking two meals…and yet you’re more likely to have her eat SOMETHING, ANYTHING.

And if she won’t? No biggie. Pick the battles you can win. You will never win at forcing a toddler to put food in her mouth and swallow. However, you CAN win the battle of where her butt is sitting for a particular block of time. She needs to sit at the table and keep you company. Ask her to sing or tell you a story. Bust out a booster seat with a strap, if you have to. Keep it pleasant and happy, but keep her at the table. Model good eating habits and manners. Eventually, she might get bored and decide to eat something — especially once you’ve established that you really don’t care. (Even though you totally dooooooo.)

Now, I know you’re ready to scream at me: AMY BUT THE 3 A.M. THING OH MY GOD. I haven’t forgotten that! Here’s what you do for that: Add a pre-bedtime snack time. After dinner, away from the dinner table. A planned, set time for a wholesome, filling snack that she gets no matter what. Even if she didn’t eat a bite of dinner. It’s not a reward, not a dessert, it’s no different than a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. If you eat dinner at 6 and she goes to bed at 8, snacktime could be around 7:30 so it’s clearly its own, independent thing. Satter sings the praises of the planned (i.e. un-begged-and-cajoled-for) snacks and I really think it’s your best solution to curb the overnight hunger WITHOUT falling into unsustainable/bad habits at dinner.

If she refuses dinner and then starts whining 10 minutes later, say you’re sorry but she’ll need to wait until snacktime. She will definitely survive until snacktime, and then should hopefully make it until breakfast without begging for food again.

Good luck, stand strong, DON’T PANIC. She’ll be fine and this will pass.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • MR

    October 25, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    My daughter was born with a congenital heart defect. She had heart surgery and is “normal”, but she still has a pretty high metabolism, and was rapidly dropping off her growth curve as an infant. We had to do the whole thing of giving her liquid whipping cream, adding butter and gravy and oil to EVERYTHING she ate, and picking high calorie, fatty foods for her. Her height jumped from about 7th to 25th percentile, but her weight percentile only went from .003rd to about 1.75th. But, through doing all this, we have been able to keep her steady at that 1.75th percentile. She is tiny. But, she is doing GREAT developmentally, and the doctor is not worried as long as she stays on this curve. He says she is just going to be tall and skinny. We should all be so lucky, right? But, she is my kid, and I worry. She is 2.5 and we finally transitioned her from bottles for her milk to sippy cups. We have been able to cut back on most of the butter and gravy (mostly because she has an uncanny knack for picking the foods on her plate that have very few calories and only wanting those) and keep her on her curve with just the whipping cream/milk bottles. But, now she is fighting that. And I have to almost literally bite my tongue to keep from saying, “Drink your milk. Drink your milk. Drink your milk.” Because she won’t drink it. And every day when I see that cup of barely sipped milk, I remember the guilt I felt when we first started the calorie boosting and she literally grew several inches in a few weeks. It was like her body had been desperately needing extra calories, and I hadn’t known. And I am SO AFRAID it will happen again. So, I get where you are coming from. That fear is real, and it is valid. I get it. But, Amy is soooo right. You can’t let that fear win here. You provide the food. That is your job. It is her job to eat. If not, then she isn’t hungry. My first daughter didn’t have any weight concerns, and she tried to do the same thing yours is doing – not eat, and then wake up hungry. We had to go the tough route and let her go to bed hungry. If she didn’t eat dinner, we would keep it for her, and she couldn’t eat anything else that night until she ate her dinner. She was hungry an hour later, her dinner was waiting for her. She woke in the middle of the night, “ok, let me go reheat your dinner for you.” That was her option. If she cried and threw a fuss and said she didn’t want that, “Ok, you aren’t really hungry then. Good night.” And we went back to bed. She tried it for a couple weeks, and stopped. Then, she would go right up until the point where we said, “Get in bed” and she’d say “I want my dinner!” We would let her eat it, but started warning her 15 minutes before bed that this was her last chance to eat her snack. Now, we warn her before she leaves the table that she hasn’t eaten her dinner and she can’t have anything else until she does. Some nights she just says, “ok.” Others, she asks how many bites she has to have to be done (we never require her to clean her plate, just eat a reasonable amount), and she quickly does that so she can eat her more preferred things later. There are no fights about food. It is WONDERFUL. So, despite the fear, and the worry, over my youngest, we are trying to maintain the same thing. There is a little more of the “eat your dinner” part with her than I’d like, but that is my only concession to the fear. If she is hungry, she will eat. If she isn’t eating, she isn’t hungry.((hugs))

  • Csry

    October 25, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Our feeding therapist has the families she works with use a kitchen timer at the table. The kids know that when the timer rings they can then be excused. For whatever reason, the kids then see the timer as the enforcer, and it removes the power struggle with the parent. Start with like 15 minutes and adjust from there. Just once the timer starts, everyone has to sit there until it has run it’s course. I have also found that this tactic works well in getting my older children to clean their rooms. Good luck.

  • Karen

    October 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Please don’t stress so much about her weight! I have two nephews, ages 5 and 7, who have never been on the weight curve (i.e. <1%) their entire lives. They aren't terribly tall either. I still have anxiety about the way my SIL handled mealtimes and her stress and the effect it had on everyone when they were younger. They are healthy, happy, smart, normal in every way little boys who are just not very tall or heavy. There is nothing about that 1% mark that says if you drop below it, then you will waste away and be doomed to remedial education. But if you let it, the stress will totally come to dominate your relationship with your kid and anyone you eat in the company of. I've only recently broken my MIL of the habit of shoving food down my own kids' mouths because that is what my SIL taught her to do with my nephews.

  • Olivia

    October 25, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    My daughter is 4 and a half and weighs around 33 pounds. It still amazes me how little food she needs to thrive. Even when she is sooo hungry she just can’t take it anymore she’ll eat maybe 3 tablespoons of food and declare she’s full. She also rarely eats more than a (one!) bite at dinner. And she only eats one piece of bread with jam for breakfast. Her biggest meal is always lunch and I guess she manages to pack in enough calories then.

  • Elizabeth

    October 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    At what age is it developmentally appropriate to expect them to sit at the table through dinner, even when they refuse to eat? I read the Satter book and we serve our 18-month old son a small portion of what we’re having for dinner. Most of the time he’ll pick at his food for about a minute then wave his hands “all done.” We let him get out of the high chair then, because of we force him to sit until we’re done eating (5-10 minutes tops), there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. We want to enforce the rule of keeping us company until the meal is done, but I’m just not sure he’s developmentally capable of it.

    • Autumn

      October 25, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      Our daughter has sat in her high chair for meals with us since she was 7 months (26 months now).  I try to make sure part of our meal is a more preferable food for  her (read:  carbs) but otherwise she gets what we are eating.  I’m pretty hard core, you don’t get out of your chair, you don’t throw or drop food.  If she’s getting antsy, our line is, when mommy and daddy are done, we can have some fruit, which gets us another couple of minutes, and usually she will take a couple more bites while she waits.  Our friends with similar aged kids are always impressed.   She’s good for up to an hour out at restaurants.  It can be taxing on our patience, but taking a toddler to a real restaurant without melt downs is sooooo worth it.  

    • Kat

      October 25, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      We have an 18 month old too, and we expect him to sit in his high chair until we are done (like you, really only a few minutes more). To keep him occupied, we talk to him, sing songs, play games. It doesn’t make for the most grown up dinner, but it’s valuable time and we have fun. When that doesn’t work, we hand him a few of his board books and let him play with those. If he throws them down, they stay down, and he just gets to sit patiently. My thought is that 5 or 10 minutes is no big deal, at this point I think he is capable of being patient-ish for short amounts of time. He may not understand the purpose exactly, but he knows that dinner time is over when we are done eating, so he can play with us, occupy himself or sit and be bored for a few minutes (most often, he would rather play/talk/engage with us).

      • Karen

        October 25, 2013 at 5:13 pm

        Just so you don’t despair Elizabeth, I have taken the opposite approach with my kids. I do not force them to sit in their chair at this age. My kids do not just sit quietly, they scream. That is not my battle. With both of my kids, they eat until they are done, we push a little to keep them at the table, and then are excused. Songs and books are not for the dinner table, they are for playtime. Over time we build up to a full regular dinner. Sometime around 3 ish, my older one was able to sit through dinner just fine. I know my son will too. Everyone’s different.

        • IrishCream

          October 28, 2013 at 1:00 pm

          We take the same approach. Our rule is that you can get down whenever you’d like, but then you’re done. You can’t come and go, and you can’t take food with you. My 3-year-old can sit for ten or fifteen minutes most nights, but occasionally she’s done after five. My 16-month-old will sit as long as her big sister is there, usually, but some nights she’ll be screaming after three minutes. We all chose our battles to fight, and for my family it works best if we don’t go into a battle of wills at that hour. Makes dinner more relaxing for me and my husband. Note that this doesn’t apply at restaurants…no racing around and disturbing others is allowed there!

    • Susie

      October 25, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      My two year old has a mini version of a dinner/craft table in the dining room with the “adult” table. We also have a booster seat for the “big” table. He wanders a lot, but it’s amazing how dedicated he gets to eating when he wants to, and sits just great, scarfs the food down, then gets right back to playing. Then sometimes, when Mommy and Daddy (or my favorite, just Mommy) are sitting at the big table, he’ll ask to join, and sit just fine on his own. He does great at restaurants-sits, stares, participates without needing to be entertained. I don’t force him. I let him explore, and enforce when it’s actually needed or super important. I sound rather hippy reading back over this, but it works for us. Stresses my mother out to no end, but she’s seen that it works for us and doesn’t lecture anymore 🙂

      Experiment. Something will work better than torturing yourself unnecessarily. 

    • Olivia

      October 27, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      We only really started making my oldest stay at the table at about 3 yrs. It’s just not a battle that is worth making my dinner miserable before then. She’s 4 and a half now and we ask her to stay seated to encourage her brother, 18 months, to focus on eating. But, we use a kiddie table next to the dining table and he comes and goes throughout. We talk to my daughter about her day but by the end of the meal my husband and I are often catching up on our day so I don’t blame the kids for wanting to go play.

  • Susan

    October 25, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    HA! I have a 3 1/2 year old teeny girl, too. She’s 26 pounds and eats like a horse, so I’m not sure the math is as easy for kids as it is for (most) adults. 

    A few months ago we went through a ‘waking in the middle of the night’ phase just because and I had a serious talk with her about how momma needs her sleep. And If momma hasn’t slept, I just can’t play or go fun places because I’m toooooo tired. We talked about other things she could do if she woke in the middle of the night and within a night or two she stopped waking us up. (now if someone could tell my 10 month old the same thing I’d be so happy)

    So, to sum it up: 1. don’t worry so much about the weight, 2. also try ‘reasoning’ with her

  • Tari

    October 25, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Such a timely post for me-my 2yo is pulling the same crap at dinner time. Except she refuses everything except the boob when she wakes up hungry during the night. I’m hoping it is a growth/developmental spurt and will end soon. Because yes, the wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from a small cyclone strapped to a high chair does not make for nice dinner conversation.

    • MR

      October 25, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      Tari, Does she have her two year molars? If not, sounds like she is going to be getting them soon. Very normal behavior around that time.

  • Susie

    October 25, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    “Huzzah send wine sob”. I’m going to have to borrow that…

  • carole

    October 26, 2013 at 1:53 am

    My daughter (18mo) has never been on the weight curve but she is following her own curve just below. She had to go through a series of tests to figure out if there was underlying problem or if she was “just petite”. At this point, she is just petite. I have always tried to cook high fat, high calorie things that she just refuses and I end up eating because I feel guilty throwing so much food away. I struggle with just moving on from the meal and accepting the “she will eat if she is hungry” motto because she has no reserves to rely on. I am constantly beating myself up for bad habits I have started to entertain her at the table or for not living by the Ellyn Satter philosophy of “its my job to provide the food and her job to eat it”.

    One thing I have tried this week that has seemed promising is to use the rotation rule. Nothing gets served more than one meal every other day. So if she gets pancakes at breakfast on Monday she cannot have it again for a meal until Wednesday. Could be coincidence but she is eating more with less struggle.

    I would have to say it was comforting reading the comments from other mom’s with petite kiddos.

  • caroline

    October 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    In the absence of a health problem, I say try the adding-her-foods to dinner and forcing her to sit there for the duration thing, but if she still doesn’t eat and wakes you up at 3am? well, I know it’s so politically incorrect, but she then gets ignored flatly till breakfast, even if that means earplugs for you. Yes. Really. Tough. She’ll do it once, and then realise that hunger pain is naaaasty. Too bad, so sad, unlikely to actually die that night so them’s the breaks!

  • Tessa

    October 27, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I had to cringe at the title of that book chapter. Of course if you view it as situation of being “jerked around” you are going to feel emotionally manipulated by a child not eating.  But that is part of the problem, a toddler eating actually has nothing to do with you. It’s about them, and their relationship with food. At that age there is a lot of evidence to suggest that their taste buds are still developing and changing. There is nothing wrong with accommodating them, just as when something isn’t tasting right to you, you wouldn’t be expected to eat it. It’s a passing phase, and if handle in a respectful way will turn out healthy eaters. It’s when we take a stance that we must force or control the situation, or make it personal, that we compound the problem and engage in our own “jerking around.”

    And developmentally a two-year-old cannot distinguish between being punished for getting up over not eating. If you are using punishments, like timeouts, for anything surrounding food they are essentially being disciplined for not eating, as they do not have the cognitive skills to not make the inference. 

    I say don’t stress, just make her something she enjoys eating, it won’t last forever. Don’t make it personal, don’t make it into a power struggle, and support your child as they learn to love food. My 16 month come and goes from the table, eats a variety of foods, and we never fight over food. I believe this is because it has only been a positive situation where she is in control of her relationship with food, and she is not being forced or controlled to eat or sit. It’s about learning and supporting someone completely, not about viewing them as little brats trying to upset or jerk you around on purpose.

    • IrishCream

      October 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      Huh. I never, ever force my kids to eat anything they don’t want to, but I draw the line at playing short-order cook. That seems to me like fertile ground for a power struggle (not to mention a missed opportunity to try out new foods!). It’s not that they’re brats, but every child will experiment with how far they can push you, with where the boundaries are. It’s developmentally healthy, and it’s also important for kids to know that there are boundaries.

      • Tessa

        October 28, 2013 at 11:45 pm

        Yes. I didn’t mean to imply that the only solution is an extreme where you are cooking up a four course meal for your toddler, or some other equally inconvenient option. I completely agree with you that because of their age they will see where the limit is, but there is a way to hold a limit with respect and in a supportive way. The first is to make sure the limit is reasonable. There is nothing unreasonable about offering an alternative, but 5 alternatives might be too much. Giving the toddler a few options, such as you can move freely around the dining room or seat in your seat, but you cannot run all over the house is meeting someone where they are, instead of expecting too much, or even worse having no limits and disrespecting the child that way. Allowing the child an alternative healthy food or two is a reasonable way to support someone, but doing anything and everything is not. 

        I think that is all very different from the tone of this post and some of the comments that I read. Believing that your child wants to upset you over food, ignoring them, forcing them, and generally just viewing it as a “food war” is already getting things off on a bad foot. So many times we make the mistake of thinking it has to be one extreme or another, when in reality there is a way to have boundaries that is still flexible, supportive, and respectful. 

  • Tari

    October 28, 2013 at 8:00 am

    MR-I had not thought about the 2yr molars coming in! Her teeth have refused to follow anything resembling a “normal” schedule do far. That and her recent use of 3-4 word sentences is probably it. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Bec

    October 28, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    I second lots of the comments above but I just wanted to add one more thing. Are you falling into the trap of giving vastly different foods at dinner then at other times during the day? I know people who give their kids versions of junk food for most of the day (sugary cereal, crackers, PBJ’s, sweetened flavoured yoghurts etc) and then act surprised when they reject the vegies at dinner…. In my mind of course they do – kids will hold out for what they like. If you mostly serve the unsweetened, whole food option (meat and a little salad on their sandwich at lunch, eggs for breakfast etc) then dinner won’t be such a shock. I have followed this approach with 3 kids (limiting junk foods) and with all the usual toddler picking they have become good eaters and I have never cooked two meals at dinner time because their tastes are adjusted to adult meals.

  • Knackered Mum

    September 26, 2014 at 6:03 am

    This post saved my life – thank you !!
    I was ready to kill somebody as I have exactly the same problem w my nearly 3yr old. I won’t give up the battle, just will be more strategic. :£

  • Kelly

    July 28, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    My granddaughter will turn 2 on Thursday and she refuses to eat anything. If you do get her to eat she will take a few bites, start gagging then throw up. Doctor says not to worry, that she’ll eat when she’s hungry. She’s only getting calories from the milk she drinks, when she wants it. It worries me she is NOT getting enough to grow properly! PLEASE HELP!!

    • Isabel Kallman

      Isabel Kallman

      July 28, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      We’re not medical professionals. Have you considered getting an opinion from another doctor?

  • Danielle

    August 16, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    My 4 year old son just recently became really picky with food. I am tired of him wanting to do everything else but eat even when it is a meal of his choosing. On my first day of eat or go to bed and this is for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I refuse to let electronics, TV, and my child run my life and sanity.

  • Jessica Kidder

    March 9, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    I just scheduled an appointment with the pediatrician.
    My two year old, (2.5 in April), is eating oddly. I mean this article definitely helps, I’m sure this is a part of it, the whole food strike persay. But sometimes it’s a lot worse than what was described above. Last Saturday for instance, breakfast was 1/4 cup of milk, a sucker at the chiropractor’s office, 1/4 cup of milk at lunch; he ate 1/4 of a PBJ and 5 crackers for snack after nap then refused dinner. There is no way he got enough calories in (honestly it’s more like the equivalent of one meal). So move on to Sunday, awesome at breakfast, no lunch, crackers while shopping, and spaghetti for dinner.

    My son is on iron because his iron is low AGAIN. Here’s what I’m worried about: His iron is low and the supplement is going to obviously help that issue, but here he is refusing 1-2 meals on a daily basis. The rest of his nutritional needs are not being met, if you ask me. I haven’t visually noticed weightloss, something I’m checking tonight with the scale. I have to track all the iron side effects because last time he got backed up and fought poo.. so here I am trying to make sure he’s pooing and he’s barely eating…

    This is a terrible battle. I don’t make him eat, I’ve been there when he was younger and it just results in more crying and snot than I care for. I’m just frustrated and worried this is all somehow a result of his increased iron dosage since it seemed to start at the same time (he had a period of time where he was off iron, and prior to that he had a much lower dose). Normally a PBJ is a go to if I need to make sure he eats something. I did this the other day and he literally took one bite from each quarter of the sandwich.

    You may not have answers. You may not have suggestions. And that’s okay. I just wanted to comment because everyone here is in similar boats. And because he’s not being his normal self; appetite changes are fine, but constant and regular not eating, to me, is means for worry.