Reasons Your Little One Isn’t Eating

Feeding children, especially those toddlers, can be wildly frustrating. Their likes and dislikes can change quickly. They can reject an entire meal for what seems like no reason, making mom and dad feel helpless and scared. It may seem like your little one is refusing to eat in an effort to drive you crazy but that may not be the case. There are a number of reasons that a child may not eat and stubborn isn’t one of those reasons. Let’s take a look at a few.

baby s green and purple highchair

Too much pressure!

Do you feel pressure surrounding getting your child to eat? Is there pressure to get through meal time quickly so that the family can make it to an event? Are you anxious when your child doesn’t eat? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’ then these feelings of anxiety may be behind why your child isn’t eating. Children are pretty intuitive little creatures and they pick up on environmental cues to help tell them what they should do. If your child feels your anxiety and pressure, it may manifest in the child as food refusal.

What can you do?

Try to relax. I know, easier said than done. Don’t hover. Don’t push your child to eat. Sit back and have conversations with others at the table. Eat your meal. Let your kiddo eat at his/her own pace and be in charge of what and how much to eat.

The kid just isn’t hungry.

Maybe, just maybe, your little one isn’t hungry. Children are intuitive eaters. A study conducted in 2002, found that children are able to recognize when their body needs calories and when their body does not need calories. This is dependent on the child not having any diagnoses that impact metabolism or nutrition. For example, if a child sit down to eat a snack and they need 300 calories but you only give them 250, the child is going to want 50 more calories. If you sit that same child down and give them 400 calories when they only need 300, the child will leave 100 calories on the plate. If you’re kid sits down and doesn’t eat, he or she may simply not be hungry at that moment and this is okay.

What can you do?

Don’t panic. Make sure that you provide eating opportunities on a regular schedule, and remember, it’s your job to provide the food and it’s your child’s job to decide how much to eat.

Large Portions.

Have you ever been out to eat and when your food comes out you think: “oh my, this is WAY too much.” This same overwhelming feeling at the sight of too much food can happen to children. When eating at, if portions are too big, your child might feel overwhelmed and shy away from that much food.

What can you do?

Decrease the portions that you’re serving and serve food in child sized dishes. If need be, provide additional, small second servings.

Too many snacks or too much milk/juice.

This can go hand-in-hand with the “not hungry” example above. If you don’t feel like your child is getting enough to eat, it’s natural to want to constantly offer snacks, milk or juice. This constant grazing can lead to always feeling full which in turn leads to low intake at meal times.

What can you do?

Provide meal and snack times on a schedule. Don’t provide constant opportunities to snack. Keep a meal time schedule that allows your child to build up an appetite. Keep a meal time schedule that allows you comfort in knowing that if you child doesn’t eat at one eating opportunity, there will be another.

Sensory or texture sensitivities.

Does your little one avoid foods based on their texture? No crunchy foods? No slimy foods? This can go the other way as well – does your child only eat food based on a certain characteristic such texture? Your child might be sensitive to certain textures and this can lead to not eating those textures.

What can you do?

Encourage your child to interact with those textures. This interaction can be as small as touching the food. It’s okay to smart that small and build up to tasting the food. It’s also perfectly okay to play with our food as part of the experience of getting used to a specific texture. Sensory issues are an area where you may need the help of a Feeding Therapist. There are several dietitians (like me!) who are Feeding Therapists. Many Occupational Therapists and Speech Language Pathologists also offer feeding therapy services. Be sure to reach out to a professional whom you trust if your at home strategies aren’t showing any progress.


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