Get Your Toddler To Eat

by Kelsey Norwood

in Food,Kid Stuff

toddler eating mealtime

Mealtimes have been tough with Joel. He never wants to sit in his high chair and eat – he screams and cries when we sit him down and then will only take a few bites. He throws his food, swipes at the spoon to knock it out of our hands, and is generally difficult at mealtimes. Lately I’ve started popping bites of food into his mouth as he runs around.

When we went to Joel’s 15 month well-check yesterday, I asked about toddler feeding. I wanted to know how many calories Joel should be eating every day so I could better gauge his nutritional intake. My doctor said not to count calories, which I was relieved to hear. She said every child’s nutritional needs are different, the important thing is offering them well balanced meals and a variety of foods.

Here are some important things I learned:

  • Offer a child one small portion from each of the 5 food groups at every meal – grain, fruit, vegetable, meat, and dairy.
  • If he doesn’t finish everything, cover the plate with saran and feed him the rest later.
  • Give him 4-6 ounces of milk in a sippy cup with each meal. Toddlers should have 20-25 ounces of milk or milk equivalent each day, but no more than that or else he will not be hungry for food at meal times.
  • Don’t offer snacks throughout the day or he will never get hungry enough to eat a good meal.
  • Don’t make a mental list of foods he doesn’t like. Sometimes you have to offer a particular food 15-20 times before the child acquires a taste for that food.

Before yesterday, we would give him lots of one thing at mealtime. Like at breakfast, he’d have an entire yogurt. At lunch a ham and cheese sandwich, and beans for dinner. After talking this issue over with my doctor, I’ve concluded that perhaps Joel didn’t eat well because he got bored of eating large quantities of the same foods.

Yesterday I followed this new mealtime routine, and it was a wild success. For me, hitting 3 or 4 of the 5 food groups is success. So for lunch he had macaroni and cheese (grain and dairy), grapes (fruit), nectarine (fruit), and milk (dairy). I also gave him a pea, which he spit out several times. So we only got 3 food groups, but he was much happier eating a few grapes, a few bites of macaroni and cheese, then some nectarine, rather than only macaroni and cheese. He also has begun feeding himself again rather than throwing his food, I think because the food itself varies and is entertaining so the need to throw it has subsided.

For his midday meal he had yogurt (dairy and fruit), bread and butter (grain), and ham (meat). Again, he ate more than normal and didn’t throw his food or knock it out of my hands.

Already Joel is consuming more calories and eating so much better because of this simple change. If mealtime is difficult with your toddler, I would absolutely recommend trying out a few of these things. It has worked for us!!!

[photo from]


1 Jenna July 23, 2008 at 4:02 am

I just thought i would make a suggestion for meal ideas for fussy one. You may have seen it already as it has been going around blog land lots recently- muffin tin monday. Basically you get a six or twelve hole muffin tin and fill each hole with different goodies. It means small serves with lots of choices (basically what your now doing). It seems kids love anything thats presented differently! Hope that helps you put the joy back in meal times!
Good luck!

2 Bobbie August 6, 2008 at 1:37 pm

i was going to comment on muffin tin monday.. but I see someone else has… my kids gobble up nearly everything in that tin because it is different in their eyes.. I was amazed!!! find lots of ideas for muffin tin monday at

good luck

3 Liz August 26, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Great tips! I have a toddler now and it’s tricky to get her to eat sometimes too. I’ve found if I get her to try at least one bite that’s great and then if she doesn’t like it she doesn’t have to eat anymore. She just has to try 1 bite! Good luck!

4 Meshellyn September 22, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Wonderful tips, my DD is 16 months old right now and so far she’s not a picky eater, but we have our days. Best thing is just to take one day, one meal at a time. She’ll eat as she’s hungry, so I can’t force her.

5 april September 2, 2011 at 5:08 am

great idea, my son is turning 11 next month..

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