There is nothing more frustrating than having a sweet baby, who eats anything you give them, turn into a stubborn toddler who is picky about food. It’s a transition that’ll make any parent want to pull their hair out. If your toddler won’t eat dinner, you’re not alone! Bring joy back to your family dinnertime and check out these mom-approved tips and tricks to give your toddler the nutrition they need. With a few tweaks to your meal routine, you can get through this finicky stage of eating.
I remember bragging about my oldest child and how great of an eater he was. By one-and-a-half he turned into a stubborn toddler who wanted nothing to do with the vegetables I was regularly feeding him. Fast forward to my third baby today, and we’ve finally got this transition period down to a science.
You’re not alone and this frustrates so many parents. You feel like your baby is getting great nutrition and then it drops off a cliff when they become a toddler. It’s partially due to their tastebuds maturing and partially due to them understanding how to say “no” finally.
With a lot of experimenting and taking a step back to adjust to the change, we’ve been able to feel so much better about our toddler’s nutrition. Mealtime is no longer like pulling teeth. We can go out to dinner, at a restaurant, without being nervous. I can plan out our family’s weekly meals without feeling like a short-order cook (making individual meals). Plus, when our toddler’s nutrition feels like it does have gaps – we have a game plan in place to correct it!
I have to admit that life with a toddler is a lot better when you’re not stressing over meal time.
Tips & Tricks For When Your Toddler Won’t Eat Dinner
Just because your toddler won’t eat dinner, doesn’t mean you can’t turn things around. I gathered these tips from personal experience and other moms who have been in your shoes. You’ve got this!
Look Into Your Toddler’s Snack Time Schedule
It’s really easy to feed your toddler snacks and then they’re more picky at meal time because they aren’t hungry. I realized I was making this mistake when I needed to get things done around my house. I’d put my toddler in his highchair and give him a handful of Goldfish crackers. Yes – it definitely gave me time to put do the laundry or dishes – by my toddler fills up on crackers.
Pay attention to the snack time for your toddler. If you’re in the habit of giving them a snack to soothe or give you time to yourself (guilty), then you might be feeding them too close to mealtime. I like to allow 1-1.5 hours of no snacks before mealtime. I find my toddler is far less picky when he’s hungry and he’s more willing to try new foods.
Sneak In Some Vegetables
If your toddler suddenly refuses vegetables, you can try sneaking in some vegetables so they’re still getting the nutrition they need. Try to add a few vegetables into their favorite meal, smoothie or even dessert.
You can easily add vegetables to macaroni-and-cheese, some greens to their smoothie and (believe it or not) zucchini to their brownies.
Here are some great recipes to sneak vegetables in:
- Zucchini Brownies – I Am Baker
- Hidden Veggies Mac & Cheese – The Creative Bite
- Green Smoothie For Kids With Two Hidden Vegetables – The Conscious Plant Kitchen
- Chicken (and Hidden Vegetables) Nuggets – Mealthy
I’m a firm believer that your kids can learn to eat vegetables without them hidden, but during this difficult phases of toddlerhood, you might need to sneak a few in. I wouldn’t feel guilty at all about sneaking those vegetables in!
Get Them Excited About Mealtime
Sometimes all you have to do is make meal time into a game and get them excited. My oldest child started to enjoy green smoothies when we called them “hulk juice” after his favorite superhero. That little change to his mindset was all he needed to start drinking them.
You can make an animal-shaped snack to accompany dinnertime or re-think the names for your foods! Kids enjoy broccoli more when they think of them as little trees – it’s so funny.
Ask The Experts When Your Toddler Won’t Eat Dinnner
If you’ve run out of ideas or think you need even more ideas for your toddler’s stubborn attitude, you might want to turn to the experts. There are some amazing books, written by nutritionists and physicians, who are experts in this field. Investing in some non-fiction books with tips and kids cookbooks are great to own.
Here are some toddler cookbooks and educational non-fiction books:
- Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers by Anthony Porto, M.D.
- My First Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen
- Raising A Healthy Happy Eater by Nimali Fernando, M.D.
A Little Bit Of Bribing Is Allowed
When all else fails, you might want to do a bit of bribing. It has worked with potty training and it might work with getting your toddler to eat dinner. You might be able to bribe with screen time or save that special dessert for only when they eat their vegetables.
Bribing is certainly not something that you want to rely on regularly, but I don’t think it hurts when you want to get the job done and you’re in a pinch. I’ll use bribing when we’re out at a restaurant and the struggle becomes a public show (thanks to my loud toddler). He always takes a few bites in exchange for his favorite television show and I have ZERO mom guilt about it!
Your Toddler Won’t Eat Dinner Because They Drink Too Much Milk
Is your toddler still weaning from the bottle? Or self-soothes with milk? That might be filling their tummies and causing them to reject meals. Milk is so filling and it’s a comfort food if you’re giving a bottle to self-soothe.
Ask your pediatrician about the amount of milk they should be consuming daily vs. what your toddler actually drinks. You might be surprised to learn they are enjoying way too much milk. When you cut back on the liquid in their tummies, they’ll feel more hungry and might be willing to give dinner a go!
Just remember to take it one meal at a time. If you’re toddler is still struggling with nutrition, you might want to look for a meal replacement drink that they can enjoy if they’re stubborn during the meal. Pediatric Nutritional Drinks can help fill the nutrition gaps that you’re worried about and give you peace of mind. You can always keep trying at the next meal or next day – don’t give up!