26 answers

2 And 1/2 Year Old Won't Eat What I Cook

My son, who is 2 and a half, and only eats "fast" food like sandwiches, french fries, chicken nuggets, fruit, things like that. It seems like when I try to cook a wholesome meal, he won't touch it. I can't even get him to taste it. I try to make kid friendly things like spaghettie, mac and cheese, sweet potato fries, etc but he won't even taste it. I tried to force him to taste something once and he just got sooo upset. I am thankful that he eats some things, but I feel like his diet is not healthy (a lot of fried foods and nothhing green). My question is should I keep on "cooking" and "trying" the other stuff or just make my life easier and prepare what he likes. It's to the point that when I prepare his usual favorites, things go smoothly, but when I "try" the other stuff, we all end up getting upset. It just seems easier to let it go and hope he will grow out of it. Am I making too big of a deal out of him eating healthy?

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

I want to thank everyone for their responses. I will stick with my guns and keep preparing the healthy meals. I also forwarded all of your responses to my husband, so hopefully he will help out too. You all are right, our son is doing this because we bought it for him and offered it to him. The taste for french fries did not come out of nowhere. Soooo, we just got to be healthier about our eating all around. I did learn also not to make a big deal out of him not eating. That was one of my big concerns, should I put up a fuss until he tries it or just say "oh well, maybe tomorrow." Now I understand not to get into that battle. Thanks againf or your help!

Featured Answers

Get him some Vemma and let him eat when he gets hungry enough. ;-) If he skips a meal or two, he'll eat whatever you put in front of him! As long as you don't let him run the show!

I completely understand what you are going thru. The consistancy thing is the main issue that so hard to be consistant with ;o). You can try making dinner for the family and if he doesn't eat it, he doesn't eat. They say that kids won't starve themselves. If he's hungry enough, he'll eat. Also, I've read to not make a big deal out of the child not wanting to eat stuff, don't show him how much it upsets you, act like it's no big deal. Maybe then he won't put up such a fight. Good luck!

My 3 year old only eats things when I call them ridiculous names. That or else I pretend the foods are different things. Spaghetti becomes a "hot lava volcano" and we put parmesean on top as "snow". Broccoli has always been called "little trees" and we see how loud we can crunch carrots (we have a contest). But I'll commiserate with you...when given a choice, my son always chooses fast food and chips :-) They must come pre-programmed that way!

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you buy the food. hes 2! you are letting him control the meals when you give in. don not keep that stuff in your house. he will eat. he wont starve himself trust me on this. good luck and dont cave!

1 mom found this helpful

My pediatrician always assures me that kids will not starve. In other words, if you do not offer him anything that is not healthy, eventually he is going to be hungry enough that he will eat the healthy food. He might skip a few meals but he will eat. I do not prepare separate meals for my kids (girls 2 and 4). They eat what I cook or they do not eat. At lunch they are offered a choice of PB&J or turkey sandwich, choice of 2 fruits, and slice of cheese and glass of milk. For dinner, it is whatever I cook which is usually poultry or pork, rice, and a vegetable. The 2 year old rarely eats much of her dinner but the 4 year old eats it all. If we go out to eat, I do not let them get fries - it's apples or oranges or fruit bowl and white milk. Recently my 4 year old has been choosing grilled chicken with broccoli for her kids meal. If you are consistent, it will pay off. A little aggravation now will save you years of battling later (not to mention forming healthy eating habits for life). Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Children are the ultimate manipulators and you are being manipulated.

Who is the parent and adult - you or your 2.5 yr old? If you allow your child to dictate what he will eat now, you are setting him up for a lifetime of bad eating habits and everything that brings with it (obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc)

Children do not know what is best for them - that is why it is the adults that raise the children. Your husband needs to jump on board to make this an easier transition. He can learn to cook simple, quick, and healthy meals. If you are both only offering healthy foods, your child won't have a choice but to eat it. It might take several tries, but a child will not willingly starve themselves.

You don't have to make the change all at once, but you can find subtle ways at first to make his favorite foods healthier. You really should limit his fried food intake to 1-2x a week or less, though. Let him have french fries (they do actually have potassium, and provide part of the needed daily carbohydrate) but bake them instead of frying. If you use white bread, switch to whole grain white (more fiber) or honey wheat. My son doesnt care for wheat bread but didn't notice when his PB&J sandwiches were on the whole grain white instead of regular white.

If you buy fresh vegetables and your son doesn't care for them, try buying frozen or canned - it could be a texture thing. For some reason, my son hates fresh green beans - but if I buy canned green beans, he has no problem eating them. Try cooking them differently - if you usually boil veggies, try steaming them or baking them or vice versa. Serve them raw (carrot sticks, celery sticks, slices or chunks of green peppers, cherry tomatoes, etc). My son loves tacos, and I started using fresh spinach leaves instead of lettuce. He did notice at first, but I didnt give him any other option (he could choose spinach leaves or nothing, and after the 2nd or 3rd time, he decided to try it since we were raving about how good it was).

Something I have always done is refused to make something different for my son for dinner if he doesnt like what I prepared. He can either eat what I made or go hungry. If he chooses not to eat, he doesnt get dessert or any snacks. He truely will go hungry for the night. By morning, he is hungry and will eat pretty much anything I put in front of him. I dont require that he finishes everything on his plate, but he does have to try everything. At least two bites of everything.

I dont know what kind of quick foods your husband makes for lunch, but if he really can't find his way around the kitchen, maybe you could prepare lunch the night before (leftovers from dinner work well if the leftovers wont be enough for another meal for everyone) so that all he has to do is warm it up. Some quick and easy foods are healthy - grilled cheese on whole wheat or whole grain white bread, soups (noodles with veggies is a good way to sneak in veggies, my son didnt used to eat the broth though), grilled chicken or fish fingers (we use our foreman grill like it's going out of style), mac and cheese (I add veggies like tomatoes, spinach, or broccoli to homemade mac and cheese)

You can try grilling or baking a lot of his favorite fried foods, healthier prep is better than frying and he might not feel deprived.

just keep trying and remember that you are the adult, and the parent. Do not make the mistake of allowing your child to make the decisions for you - he does not know enough to make those decisions.

1 mom found this helpful

Child psychologist John Rosemond has good advice about this. Kids will not let themselves starve, they will eat when they need to. What he says is give a very small part of the favorite food (like 1 chicken nugget) then a very small part of a healthy food (like 2 peas). Make it clear that there are more chicken nuggets available, but you don't get them until you clean your plate (for an older child you'd explain that if you haven't eaten what you have in front of you, then you aren't still hungry). As the child eats the tiny bit of healthy food, go ahead and give more unhealthy food for that meal. Then each meal you increase the amounts of healthy food.

The rule has to stay the same all the time -- eat what you have to get anymore -- even when you increase the amounts. He said his daughter refused dinners for days because she wouldn't eat green beans. Now she's a vegetarian.

This has been pretty successful with our 9-year-old and we are starting to do it with the 2-year-old too. It takes patience, I know, but you can set good patterns now to make it easier later. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi A.,
I know exactly where you are coming from I have a 7 year old little boy who has been very choosy with his food since he was about 3. It has gotten really bad at times, not even eating foods that were previously his favorites. I just got a new cookbook called Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. It is absolutely wonderous!!! She uses veggie/fruit purees to make foods more nutritious. Since I have already made my own baby food, it was really simple for me. So far, we have tried three of the recipes and my little picky eater gobbled up every bite! The key is to still put those veggies/healthy foods in their normal form on the plate. That way, he still sees them, but you don't feel that desparate need to force them into him!! Let me know if you try it, and how it goes. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Im in the same boat... except I'm a work full time FROM HOME mom who stays home w/ my children...I do try to offer different things during the day, and during our family dinner. My son is stuck on PB&J, chicken, fries (sweet potato fry is a fav too), grilled cheese, and various breakfast items, cheese, all fruits, and no pasta, no veggies!

I consulted our pediatrician, as well as a feeding therapist. Both assured me that 1/2 of all kids they see go through this. I've learned several ways to get veggies in him (Kagome juices, etc) and we're working with what we have. I offer daily a variety, but make sure that I have something I KNOW he'll eat on his plate. We don't fry foods, we bake them all, and we live by the med. diet. because of some family health concerns... so what we're doing works for us.

I also have a 10 year old son, who was the same way at one point...at one point I thought he'd turn into chicken and french fries.... but now (and since around 4-5 years old), my 10 year old will eat anything from Asparagus to Spinich. So I am peaceful in knowing that when my toddler is 10 he won't be asking for a PB&J at dinner time while we eat a traditional meal....

I'm reading your replies, to see if I get some new ideas!! Good luck!! I really hope that you don't get alot of negative people responding and making you feel like you should let food be a power struggle.

Any doctor I've consulted have been VERY clear in letting me know that this power struggle can and does lead to eating disorders, so I've been given wonderful advice that works for us. In providing lots of choices, as well as making sure that I know there's something on his plate he WILL eat. Power struggles are just that - about power. It's not about who's "in charge" - it's about picking your battles, wisely. I'm proud to say that my 10 year old eats ANYTHING we offer him, and trys alot of new things. This is because long ago, when HE was a toddler, we had a very wise pediatrician (who we use now) who said to me "is this about you, or him? is he getting what he needs overall? make sure he's getting what he needs, the rest will fall in place." That doctor was right, it WAS about me at the time, and he WAS getting what he needed through the day... I just wanted to be able to say "eat this" and him do it. But I had to allow him to explore, and once I did - he fell right into eating lots of yummy things... now my youngest is doing the same, he's slow to try new things, but eventually he will! I'm sure of it.

I will close with this - if the worst thing you have to face with your child is PB&J or roast beef power struggles, count your blessings. No one on this forum knows me, but I can say from personal experiance, that there are far worse things that could happen then the battle of the plate. I really REALLY hope you get positive feedback.

1 mom found this helpful

My 3 year old only eats things when I call them ridiculous names. That or else I pretend the foods are different things. Spaghetti becomes a "hot lava volcano" and we put parmesean on top as "snow". Broccoli has always been called "little trees" and we see how loud we can crunch carrots (we have a contest). But I'll commiserate with you...when given a choice, my son always chooses fast food and chips :-) They must come pre-programmed that way!

I think most kids go thru the same kind of thing. Mine did and sometimes still do. What I did and still do with my girls, now 7 and 9, is provide one thing with the rest of the meal that I know is a good item for them. If they are hungry they will eat what we have for dinner as a family. Later in the evening there are no snacks or anthying if they didn't eat the main dish. Plus my husband always says that they have to take at least 3 bites of whatever is put on their plate before they decide they don't like it. It's really for the best that you try to get your son on the same food routine with the rest of your family. Otherwise you will feel like you are running a restaurant when you have to make and serve him seperate dishes than everyone else. I have done this a few times and it's doesn't help anyone, even though they may fuss and argue he will have to learn to eat what is served. Persistence is the key and my peditrician told me that they will not starve if they skip a meal or two by being stubborn. Good Luck!

Hi A., I am sorry that I'm not going to much help, I just wanted you to know that I'm going through the same thing with 6 year old. She won't eat anything I make either. Your son eats more than my daughter. What we're doing is we give her one thing that she likes yougurt or a nutrigrain bar,and then we give her what I make with it. If she doesn't eat what I give her that I make, then she doesn't get anything else. I do that because last year for Thanksgiving she didn't eat at all except breakfast. We ate Thanksgiving with my dad at his house, she ate nothing, I made Thanksgiving dinner at my house, still didn't eat anything, so at 3 am the next morning she got sick because she was so hungry. If I give her one thing that she likes with something that she thinks she doesn't like, that's all she gets. I am tired of making extra meals. My youngest will eat anything, you'd think by watching her it will intice my oldest to try different stuff. My daughter used to eat pb and j sandwiches only but we cut that out, now she only eats yougurt, chewy bars and nutrigrain bars. I tell people this and they say, well at least she eating healthy. That's not healthy to me, she's snacking is what she's doing. To me that's not healthy. I hope everything works out. Take care, J. A.

I have a now 4 yr old that has been given me this same issue since about 2 and 1/2. First we would only eat chicken, beans, french fries, apples and pb. Now we will only eat hot dogs, french fries, apples and pb. I cook a normal meal knowing he will more than likely tell me it is yucky and ask for a hot dog. I believe the kid is full of hot dogs. I have asked the peditrician for the past year and a half about his diet and the response has been the same. They will get everything they need. Unless your child is asking for candy and chips at every meal I think you are doing ok. Like one of the other mothers said before.....Pick you battles. When they only want chocolate and doritos then there is a problem.

I have to agree with DeeDee....children learn what they live. You need to keep offering the healthy foods to your child and if they refuse...well, breakfast is in a few hours. Also, model good eating behavior. Try fresh crunch veggies. Have your child help you pick them out at the market. Engage your child in preparing the foods.

As for lunch...it can be quick and also healthy...slices of meat and cheese with crackers, always offer fresh fruit with lunch, graham crackers with peanut butter, soup, etc.

Just keep offering the good food to your child and if they are hungry enough, they will try it.

I've been out of touch for a week or so and am a little behind on checking in. You may have already gotten the advice you need, but if you have a chance to pick up the cookbook by Jerry Seinfeld's wife, Jessica, called Deceptively Delicious it may help. There's also another one called The Sneaky Chef. Read the reviews on amazon.com to see if you think it could help. Good luck.

I completely understand what you are going thru. The consistancy thing is the main issue that so hard to be consistant with ;o). You can try making dinner for the family and if he doesn't eat it, he doesn't eat. They say that kids won't starve themselves. If he's hungry enough, he'll eat. Also, I've read to not make a big deal out of the child not wanting to eat stuff, don't show him how much it upsets you, act like it's no big deal. Maybe then he won't put up such a fight. Good luck!

I'm afraid I might not be very helpful except to say that if your being manipulated by a baby of 2/ 1/2, you're setting yourselves up for a rough road ahead. He is in control, and you are falling for it.
Kids will NOT starve themselves to death. He cannot eat junk unless you give it to him! (How did he learn to demand the junk food?? Somebody bought it for him and gave it to him, right?)
With patience and a little creativity, you can take control and keep offering the child good food choices without giving in to his whims. He eventually will eat enough to survive, and will develop a taste for good healthy foods that he likes.
I know one of my daughters put her two year old daughter back on baby food for awhile, along with giving her multivitamins. When the baby food became unappealing the her daughter started wanting what the others were eating ("grown up food") then she resumed giving her the table food, and my granddaughter quickly started eating veggies, meats, fruits, pasta, and a variety of foods.


It sounds like he will only eat white foods. So anything with color to it, he will not eat it. A lot of children do this. Make sure to give him a vitamin every day. You could try buying a cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld called "Deceptively Delicious". Her recipes are full of foods that are good for a child but full of veggies, only the veggies are hidden in his favorite foods. I have found that most of her recipes are really good and you cannot taste the veggies that are hidden in them. This is something that he will grow out of. My son was the very same way when he was 2. I even bought the vegetarian chicken nuggets and you cannot taste the difference. (Especially if he dips his nuggets in ketchup.) Best wishes to you!!

My now 21yo son did the same exact thing till he was almost 3. I asked my pediatrician about it & he assured me he would not starve himself to death. I told him I was not a short order cook & didn't want to cave in & he agreed. My son would eat HUGE breakfasts & nothing else all day. I would put food on the table, he would take one look and refuse to eat. So I would say ok then, but he had to sit at the table till we were all done. No yelling, no fussing, no snacks or meals afterward either. It took a while but eventually he began to eat what I made.

I now have a 10yo and starting when he was young, our rule is you have to TRY everything, 3 bites and then if you still don't like it, you don't have to eat it. He's discovered lots of things he liked that he didn't think he would because of that.

You give in now, you'll be cooking to his way for years to come. And you need the support of your husband. If you have to, all 3 of you go to your pediatrician & have him tell you, but you can't have him undermining what you're striving to accomplish here. At this age, he's exercising his will & he needs to know that you're in charge.

Good luck.

He may need to be desensitized to these new food textures. But while you are working on this, don't stress. This too will pass.

My kids were older when I finally desensitized them to lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. They would have to eat one bite (and it could be tiny) of the new food and then they could circle the plate before having to take another bite of the new food. They could wash it down with water and we would make a game out of who could take the tiniest bite. But, anyway, they gradually did not have to wash it down with water, took bigger bites, etc. and now they eat these veggies fine.

But since your son is younger, my thought is to start more gradually. Rave over the food you are eating that he is avoiding, maybe for a week. Then start putting a small piece of that food on his plate at mealtime. Tell him he doesn't have to eat it, but he does have to let it sit there. Then maybe see if you can get him to smell it (one week), then lick it (another week), then take a tiny bite (just one), before eating the rest of his dinner. Make a game out of these things where you are smelling yours too and see who can do it first or take the tiniest bite, etc.

This might help also - http://www.drgreene.org/body.cfm?id=21&action=detail&...

Good luck!

Keep trying, don't let up. Try serving him food he can pick up only with his fingers (like fast food). Try serving it on a tray (like in fast food). Serve him non-processed meats on whole wheat grain bread (make in before you leave in the morning so your DH doesn't even have to worry about it.)

Just don't give up.

Get him some Vemma and let him eat when he gets hungry enough. ;-) If he skips a meal or two, he'll eat whatever you put in front of him! As long as you don't let him run the show!

I have a 2 1/2 old and he is a pretty good eater (used to be better) and he had a stretch where he only wanted chicken and fries (Chik-Fil-A). Some of the things that I have been able to get him to eat and are good for him:
Pork chops that are marinated in teryaki (or any asian) because they are a little sweet
Baked chicken tenders marinated in Honey BBQ (again, sweet)
Chicken Quesadilla (w/ sour cream to "dip") I sometimes put broc, caul and carrots in it ( he can't get them out because they are stuck in the cheese so he just eats it)
Meatballs w/ spag sauce to dip
He has lately been a fan of raw veggies. He'll even dip them in ranch.
He'll only eat spag if it's a funky pasta shape.

I let him help me cook alot too. He pulls a chair up to the counter to stand on and pours the marinade on the chops, puts the veggies in the bowl after I cut them, pushed the buttons on the microwave, etc.

We do the day/night switch thing too and I feel like I have to do a "healthier" dinner too.

I will say just don't get too "crazy" about what he eats. My sister has always been, in my opinion, a little over zealous about what they ate, how much they ate and I think that they are really sensitive about food. But what I find interesting is that they aren't so picky and "wierd" for anyone else. They eat pretty much everything that I cook especially when she is not around.

Just remember he won't let himself starve. If he goes to bed hungry he'll just wake up and eat just about anything.

I think that I may just be rambling now so I'll go. Good Luck!

I have a 2 1/2 yr old little girl and we are going through the same issues. She has her set stuff she will eat and that is it. She WILL NOT try anything new. Except for a dessert! I dont think she is maniulating me or whatever some of the other posters said. If we cant get them to try something new then we are not going to force feed them! I really think it has to do with their age. I give her what I know she will eat so she has something her in tummy! She is growing and healthy and when she is ready to try new things I am sure she will. Good luck to you. I know how frustrating it is.

It sounds like you need to pull a few tricks to get your toddler on the right track. Keep trying the good foods and stay away from fast food places. Their foods are filled with sodium and saturated fats. If your child is all about the container, use it to your advantage! If it were me, I'd use one of the kid's meal boxes and swap out a healthy alternative for the fries. Wrap the healthy food in a fancy wrapper and call it a Christmas special for kids.
Being well prepared is a big step in the right direction. When you're at home, cook some healthy meals and freeze them so your husband can go along with this new change. It sounds like his kitchen duty is a little too easy going. He needs to realize you only have a few short years to teach your child to eat the right way. Fresh cut veggies in the fridge are a great and simple way to have a healthy snack. I cut up carrot sticks and cucumbers with a wavy cutter. My kids loved their mini trees (broccoli) with ranch dressing, which also give a boost of calcium! Try sliced grapes, cheese cubes, PLAIN yogurt your child can add fruit to (like blueberries/strawberries), and sliced apples with peanut butter! I'm making myself hungry! I hope this helps. Look on kid friendly websites for more ideas for healthy meal planning. Remember kids will be happy to eat what they've helped prepare, so ask your little guy to be a big boy and help you out. Small changes will lead to big improvements. Good luck to you!

My daughter tried that stuff at about that age, and we just stuck to our guns, and kept offering her what we ate. If she wouldn't eat it, we would not give her anything else. She didn't starve. I know it sounds harsh, but if you give in now, it will only get worse and he will never acquire a taste for anything new. Our daughter will eat almost anything we put in front of her if she is really hungry. When she started school we had to go through the whole thing again, because kids at school would say oooh you like beans??? She got picky for a little while after that, but now in first grade, she is back to eating well. It's hard not to give in, especially when you are tired, etc...Some healthy foods just "don't" taste good though or have a weird feel, like cooked carrots, and I have been known to sneak them into spaghetti sauce, because "I" don't like the taste, but I know they are good for me. Good Luck!

In our home, the rule is you have to eat what is served. If you don't, you can be hungry until the next meal. I try to make sure that I prepare one of my son's favorites at least once a week. I promise, your child will not starve himself! For example, my son LOVES breakfast, so even if he decides not to eat dinner, he will be fed the next morning. Also, the only snacks we have in the house are healthy...apples, bananas, string cheese, and the occasional piece of peanut butter toast. I try to make sure that there are at least 3 hours between his snack and dinner, since I want him to be hungry for dinner. I assure you, if your child is hungry enough, he will eat. Then again, if this approach sounds too harsh for you, you could become a "short order" cook until your child grows out of this phase. What I tell the adults who come to dinner is, "If you don't like what I cook, feel free to help yourself to the cereal or a peanut butter sandwich."

I received a quick and easy recipe for chicken nuggets from a friend recently:
Cut boneless skinless chicken breasts into chunks; roll in flour; dip in egg; roll in crushed saltines and bake at 350 until juices run clear. Any type of crackers will do.

Hope this helps.

Your son is 2. Right there is the main reason for his likes and dislikes. Your son wants typical food for his age. Unless it is complete junk food then let him have his chicken nuggets. I realize you want your son to eat happy and the whole thing about instilling healthy eating habits in your child when they are young is great, but only in theroy most of the time. Take what "fast foods" he likes and make them yourself. My daughter is 4 and will not touch vegtables, so I give her fruit with meals instead. She loves hamburgers..great! She could care less that I hand make the patties from ground chuck and bake them rather then fry them. (Just prep a few and freeze them!) but hey she has a hamburger!
Your son's tastes will develope over time and while it is very tempting to try and force your kid to try something (been there)save yourself the effort and the tears :)
My daughter was sooooo picky that for a time all I could get her to eat was GARLIC BREAD!! I am not joking. But then I started her with 1/2 a piece of it with 2 chicken nuggets or a bowl of mac & cheese..gradually she altered her eating and now she has a very HEALTHY diet. Cheese stix (wouldn't touch those 6 months ago), all fruit, pastas, rices, meats....
At this point she is more than willing to try somethign because we have the aggrement that if she doesn't like it, then she doesn't have to eat it.
It is frustrating. As a mom you want your children to eat what you think they should, when they should and how much you think they should. It is very easy for us as loving parents concerned for our children's health and well being to forget they are people too :)
Have your son checked out by his pediatrician. If the doc says he is healthy then leave it at that. It will get better..

My 2 1/2 year old is the same. She does eat well at day care with other kids her age so we are not as concerned at dinner time. My daughter is under weight though. We have 2 older kids so we have to make a complete meal every night and we put it in front of her. She has to sit in her seat while we eat. To supplement her vitamins/calories we let her have pediasure, danimals yogurt, fresh fruit and veggies. She would rather have the plain stuff. I have read that children's taste buds are more sensitive than adults so the strong flavors that we like are to harsh for them. I do not see anything wrong with giving some fruit, cheese and deli meat slices with crackers for dinner sometimes also. Almost fully balanced and kid friendly.

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