How to Get a Toddler to Eat

Vanessa Millovich DCN RDN LDN

Why do we feel so much pressure in the first place

When it comes to food and mealtime, if your toddler doesn’t eat you think about that a lot and you are stressed out. We’ve been there.


If you’re calm, your child will learn to be calm

Pressure to eat causes stress, and stress is one reason why your toddler isn’t eating. In these situations, parents, caregivers, siblings, and the child all feel the pressure of eating. Take a step back and realize that your feelings of anxiety are shared by anyone else at the table. Remind yourself of this during mealtimes. It will help you set a calmer foundation, and most likely, your child will take notice.


How to get a toddler to eat? Don’t pressure. 

It is super tempting to beg your toddler to take a bite or something on their plate. But don’t do it! This pressure doesn’t work. One study showed that kids who were pressured to eat actually ate less. Another study in college students showed that years later  kids still hated the foods they HAD to eat as children. Wow!


Establish a schedule- but be flexible about it

Establish a schedule around eating. This can help everyone at the meal know what is expected of them. This will create a breezier mood. A laid-back routine means that you try your best to prepare sit-down meals and snacks (at the table) around the same time, each day.  If something comes up and the routine has to change, it is all okay. If your child sees and hears how upset you get if a meal isn’t on-time, they take on that anxiety and it can make it harder for them to feel relaxed enough to eat. 

Discuss the mealtime routine with your spouse, kids, and family

Get everyone involved in mealtime on the same page. A routine sets expectations. When you establish ground rules around mealtime, it helps to make the entire experience feel less stressful. Some ground rule we like to suggest:

  • Food is only eaten at the table
  • When kids leave the table that signals to you that dinner is done
  • Parents only make one dinner, you are not short order cooks


Remember this is a process

If answering how to get a toddler to eat was easy and the same for everyone, why would you be reading this? Learning to eat takes a long time. Positive changes don’t happen overnight. Every step you take to improve mealtime, is a step to help your toddler learn to eat – eventually they will eat. You’ve got this!

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