35 answers

2 Year Old Doesn't Eat

Come meal time, my two year old son won't eat. He'll take a bite or two then declares himself finished. He won't eat breakfast and loves to drink liquids. My husband and I have tried what seems like everything to find something he will eat. The only thing that keeps him going is milk supplemented with Pediasure, vitamins, fruit/vegetable juice and water.

Our doctor isn't concerned as our son is gaining weight just at a slower pace. Do you have some suggestions that will encourage him to want to eat? Our doctor isn't concerned as our son is gaining weight just at a slower pace.

What can I do next?

More Answers

Hey K., I know youve gotten tons of advise on this, but whats one more? LOL. Ashylnn just turned 2 Jan.30, and had the same prob. She just wanted to drink milk, or grape juice all day and would not eat any meals of the day, except for a couple of snacky items througout the day. She wouldnt want to eat anything for breakfast but waffels w/ syrup on it, which I hated but figured it was better than nothing, till I realized all I was doing was feeding he sugar, and empty callories/no nutrients whatso ever in it. I decded to stop giving her milk in the morning untill after she eats breakfast, and wouldnt give her milk untill she ate.

The first 3 days, she would ask for her milk, and I'd explain she has to eat breakfast first, then milk. She DID NOT like that at all! LOL. She would thow herself on the ground and cry and refuse to eat. At first I'd try to give her 5 dif. things after another, but then I decided that she needs to eat what I give her when I give it to her, and not make me a short order cook.

SO I would make her oatmeal, which she looked at and would not eat cuz it looked "eww" LOL, so I kept resauring her that it was good, and it was yummy, and even showed her that I was eating a bowl myself. She still wouldn't even take a bite untill 12:00 in the afternoon, then of course loved it. But She had to eat it cold. LOL. I wouldn't give her anything not e=ven a drip of anything till she ate. She was just being persnickety, and she couldn't live on liquids alone. Then I gave her only 4 ounces of milk in her cup instead of 9, cuz I found out is better to give them small quantities throughout the day instead of at once.

I made it like a big reward for eating, and made a big deal out of it. Then I gave her a slice of apple, and a wheat cracker for snack, then If she wanted juice, I'd give her only an ounce of white grape juice, then put 4 ounces of water and give that to her but not let her have anymore untill she ate a meal, then if she gave me any trouble I'd say ok no juice, or snack untill you eat, and I wouldnt give her anything untill she ate. If she threw herself on the ground, I would walk away and do domething else, and not give in to her.

It sounds harsh, but she has to eat food, not just juice all day. Its not like I starved her or wouldnt let her eat. If she wanted to eat, she would eat what was infront of her, other wise I look at it as she must not be that hungary. Now she eats what I give her, and knows when shes done, she can ask for her juice whenver she wants it. I wont let her hav more than one thing of juice between meals, and only give her one small snack between meals. Otherwise she wont eat the ood stuf. She cant et all her nutrients form milk, or juice. Shes old enough to where she needs whole foods.

1 mom found this helpful

My 2 1/2 year old is pretty much the same way. I notice on days where he doesn't have a whole lot to drink he eats better.
In my family, everyone is on different schedules so we all eat at different times. I do try and sit and eat at the same time as my son as often as I can, and this does help him eat more.
I also let him decide what he wants to eat.

I let him help me make whatever it is I am fixing him as well. Something my son has a lot of fun making is French Toast and its super easy for him. I crack the eggs and do the actual cooking of it. M son mixes the batter, puts the bread in it, turns the bread over, and places it on the cold pan. When all the pieces are on the pan he steps away and I cook them for him. He will eat every last bite of his french toast when he makes it.

If your son doesn't want to eat a meal, try healthy snakes. My son nibbles on fruit and granola bars all day.

I hope some of what I wrote helps you. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful

Have you tried cutting back on the liquids? My son is a pretty picky eater and would love to fill up on juice and milk sometimes. He will also take a bite and say he's done, though he has got a little better. I now tell him he has to eat some before he gets his drink back. He might be filling up on the liquid and getting all his nutrients from the supplement so he doesn't feel the need or desire to eat. I'd try cutting back on the liquids and being consistent with it. It's tough, but when I showed that I was serious to my son, he now understands.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi Sweetie,

My only advice is to stop trying to cater to him and giving him supplemental high calorie drinks. Save this for just before brushing teeth at night if you are concerned about his weight. It is normal for a 2 yr old not to want to eat. They will use this as a manipulation tool to get what they want. They are smart little rug rats even at this age. He will eat when he gets hungry. When he wants a snack give him his plate from the previous meal. As long as he is healthy and not losing weight he will get the message. Hope this helps some. I know I went through this with all 3 of my sons.

R. 53 yr old 3 grn sons

1 mom found this helpful

Hi K.!

My first thought before I finished reading was does your son drink juice and then I saw that he does. Juice is a filler and most babies/toddlers who are big juice drinkers are usually not big eaters. I would start watering down the juice until it's just water and offer it less throughout the day. I think you will find that once he's not getting as much juice that he will be hungrier for food. He's going to hate not having his juice at first though now that he's used to it. Most people aren't aware of this but a child's serving size of juice should only be 4 oz. per day (8 oz per day for an adult). It's full of sugar and water is a much better way to hydrate yourself and still leave room in your belly for healthy foods. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

My son went through that too. And still is to some degree. Like you, his doc was not concerned AT ALL. What helped me was to make a list of what he would eat (which was not a lot). When I did that I realized that he was getting enough protein, calories, fruits, etc. He is still a very picky eater, or as his doc likes to say, he has narrow pallet, but at least know he's get healthy well balanced meals. I don't if that helps or not, but at least you know you're not alone :)

Good luck and just keeping offering him healthy foods.

1 mom found this helpful

Our son, who will be 3 in June, does the same thing. After reading some responses, I realized he does drink quite a bit of juice & I'm going to cut back on that. So I'm getting some advice while offering some. What we've started doing is the second he starts to leave the table, we remind him if he wants to eat, then he has to stay at the table. Once he leaves the table, we tell him dinner is over & take away his food. So, most nights, he eats only a few bites. He eats great at breakfast & lunch & healthy snacks so come dinner, if he doens't eat much, I'm not too worried. I also think it's a control thing for him so we're not going to force him to stay & eat one more bite or it will become a big battle. I suggest you do the same thing. Food is one area kids have a lot of control over so he's probably exerting some of that control. Don't make a big deal of it, unless he's losing weight. Just be consistent about dinner at the table & that it's gone once he leaves & he'll start to get the picture. Hope this helps & good luck.

1 mom found this helpful

Try giving him something he likes like carrots, grapes, crackers, etc. Carry those with you so he can eat when he gets hungry.

R.

Completely cut out the milk, juice and pediasure. Give him only water to drink. This will take 2-3 days of adjustment, but as soon as all his calories are not coming in liquid form anymore, he'll be hungry for food, and will want to eat it. He won't dehydrate either, because he will drink water when he is truly thirsty. Your son will complain at first, but he'll get over it. Just don't give him any other options. I'd add milk back in after 3 months of him eating regular food well.

Good luck!

Dear K.,
This is so common with 2 year olds. My kids did the same thing.
I went to Askdrsears.com. He has the best info. I have bought some of his books and attended his lecture. His son is a doctor as well. He appears on Dr. Phil quite often. I met Dr. Sears when I became a distributor of Juice Plus. They have gummies that are great for the little ones. Of course we like them too, when we get a sweet tooth. It is 17 whole fruits and veggies with no salt. Go to juiceplus.com/tdh53742.
Dr. Sears has lots of great ideas. He is the leading childrens doctor in the country. You will love his web site. As far as the juices go. It isn't really the best idea, because of the sugar content is so high. Even if it is 100% juice. Make sure it does not contain corn syrup or any kind of fructose.
I really feel for you. The struggle is so hard sometimes.
I am sure it will all work out. Good luck!

Happy Easter

Blessings

K.

I saw that you had quite a few responses and I didn't read any of them so please forgive anything I may repeat.
My son is now 3 and we have similar eatting issues with him. My pediatrician suggested several things, but the one thing that worked is "structured eating". This is basically establishing specific eating times and offering what you want him to eat for breakfast, if he doesn't eat it, then he gets nothing until snack. Offer him what you want him to have, if he doesn't eat it then he gets nothing else until lunch... ect throughout the day. Meal and snack times should be a specific times and only at those times does he get the opportunity to eat anything.
A few nights of no dinner and nothing right before bed our son decided he'd better eat his dinner.
My daughter went through a phase too where she wouldn't eat all of her dinner or any of it some times but then would want a bowl of cereal right before bed. We did the same thing with her. You don't eat dinner you get nothing until breakfast. It nearly broke my heart to send her to bed hungry, but it only took two nights of that and she started eating her dinner.
Hope this is helpful. Enjoy your little guys!!

I have had that same problem and now my 4 yr old is doing it again. My doctor always tells me they won't starve, She says they will eat when they are hungry. Try cutting back the fluid and no snacks at least 2 hours before dinner.

Hi K.-
Our son also would not eat - I mean really wouldn't eat - when he was very young. Tell me, does your son have any other baffling behaviors such as head banging, body rocking, or reluctance to get his hands messy?

E. W

It may seem like he isn't eating--but you can relax when you may recall that his stomach is the same size as his fist.

Hi K.,

I agree you should watch his snacking throughout the day, as that may be what is causing him to 'snack' at dinner time as well. But, if your dr isn't concerned about it and your son is still gaining weight, then try to relax. My son started doing this at around 1 1/2 yrs old. I was worried too but my dr said as long as he is still gaining weight and is still eating some, it's pretty much normal for that age. I also did some research which basically stated the same thing. At that age, they are so on the go and ready to learn all they can, it's hard for them to sit still any length of time to eat. Just make sure the snacks you get for him are healthy, like apples w/ PB (for some protein) or whole grain crackers with cheese, etc. My son still goes through phases where he doesn't want to eat, but since he's a little older and understands a bit more, we tell him he has to stay in his booster seat until we are done eating. He'll usually take a couple of extra bites while waiting to get down.

Hope this helps a bit. Happy Easter.

N.
www.bestworkformoms.com

Dear K.,

If your son is gaining weight and eating I wouldn't worry either. He won't starve himself.

I've spent a lot of time in recovery around food issues. I breastfed my daughter. I loved my lactation consultant, Tina from Kaiser. When I started solids for my daughter, I was very apprehensive because of having to now make all these decisions about food (I didn't have to when she was breastfeeding). Tina recommended "Child of Mine" by Ellyn Satter. Ellyn is an internationally recognized eating and feeding therapist. I LOVE her book and I refer to it all the time. According to what I've read, your son is doing fine.
As parents we share responsibility with our children for eating....we decide the WHAT and the WHEN and our children decide WHETHER and HOW MUCH. I'd grab a copy so you can rest easy that you and your husband are doing the right thing. It sounds like you are to me.

I WOULD worry if there was something wrong with his growth and activity level and he was not eating much.

My goal is to have a daughter that has a healthy, sane, pleasant relationship with food and to not pass on any food baggage I have. Ellyn's book is really helping me with that.
My daughter is small and sometimes I feel worried that she is not eating enough. But she is growing, she is walking and full of energy and sleeping very well.

Good luck!

L. M.
Novato

Don't let this become a battle of wills! You (and moms in general) do not have time to be a short order so just offer him whatever you're eating and if he doesn't eat, then don't offer him anything else until the next regular snack or nap time. At 2 yo growth slows down and they can aford to eat less and it's very common for a child this age to use food to learn about boundaries. It's not that he's "manipulating" you, it's just a normal part of his development to test at this age. Read Child of Mine by Ellen Satter (or skim it) -- it may give you strength to try this approach, which seems to have worked to make our daughter a much more flexible and "good" eater at 3 yo.

Hmm.. that's a tough one. Have you tried limiting his intake of liquids, or sort of 'bribing' him that if he eats, he can then have the Pediasure? That's what we did with my son, and it helped quite a bit, but his eating issues were a bit different.

When my kids were toddlers, they went through phases where they didn't eat much when they weren't going through a growth spurt. They also seemed to prefer to "graze" or snack a lot throughout the day rather than sit down to a full meal which is actually healthier for them as long as the snacks are healthy.
It sounds pretty normal, and I would guess he probably doesn't need Pediasure. Just give him healthy choices when he does want to eat.

Hang in there K., I know this can be frustrating. It has been suprising to me how must stress and worry I have had over food with my daughter, who is now three and a half. My daughter is also not an eater, and it was becoming a battle every time we sat down to eat. I tried everything like modeling good food, having day care work with her on trying food, rules about bite numbers, lost priveledges, etc. and she was steadfastly refusing to eat more than a bit. She was living largely on milk, cheese, rice, and a handful of pretty good foods like tofu, and eggs.

I am convinced that this is the area that my daughter has chosen to exert her control in the world, and I respect that as a developmental stage. Think about how little control these little people have! I found that if I pushed her, she would refuse everything, but if we inched towards new foods or foods she would eat, it worked - slowly and not without lots of patience on my part.

The breakthrough came when I brought the dinner dog to the table. He is a puppet that came to the table when she was 2 and a half or so, and she would eat bites for him, and pretend to feed him a bit too. Because he "spoke" with a different voice than mom or dad, she listened and interacted with him. She would even ask for the dinner dog when she was having a hard time eating. Little by little my daughter is eating better, but she is still the pickiest eater at a preschool of 75 kids. I let her pick between two or three entrees, veggies, etc. Do you want bread or bagel? rice or tortilla? Beans or carrots. When given choices, she is likely to agree to food she will eat. After that the rule was 3 bites, which the dinner dog sometimes helps with (spoon in puppet mouth).

I have stayed close to the foods she will eat, and dinner is often 1 hour, but we are getting to a much better place, and she is now proud of her eating. Hang in there, it gets easier! cheers M.

I would just make sure that he doesn't snack too much throughout the day, that can definitely contribute to not eating at mealtime. And, when he does snack, just try to get something as calorie-rich, but healthy, as possible. My older one has always eaten everything, but my little guy is not a huge eater and we've learned to take his cues. He has teeny portions and ketchup, ranch or melted cheese on top of many meals, which may sound strange, but he eats his veggies and meats that way. Just be creative in what you give him for food and maybe try cutting back on the juices, perhaps he's getting too many calories that way and is not as hungry come mealtime? Remember that we always see adults eating; they don't drink all day, it will eventually work out!

Most kids are picky eaters. Try different foods to see what he really likes. When they are bigger, they will be twice as picky. Does he like things that you eat? My boys do that all the time.

try involving your son with cooking meals with you he may become more interested in food that he prepared, also involve him in grocery shopping and the farmer's market in choosing foods he would like to eat. keep trying and offering a variety foods, he won't starve himself, he is probably trying to show some 2 y.old independence. if he likes liquids try smoothies with yogurt and protein powder to ensure good nutrition
good luck and I'm sure one day when he is a teen you will be wishing he would stop eating you out of house an home

unfortunately no good advice, just wanted to let you know i'm in the same boat :) and like you, i've been told not to worry by the doc and MANY, many moms. everyone says it's a phase they'll go in and out of, and they really will eat when they need to.

sympathizing,
K.

I hear of many parents sharing your lament, but I've never heard of a two-year old starving himself! This will pass. By the time your younger one goes through it, you'll be less concerned. If your doctor isn't worried, take that as an indication that you're fine parents.

I have a 3 year old and a 20 month old and the 3 year old is the same. We are at the point where he has to sit at the table until he eats an adequate amount of food. But you have to balance not making a big deal about it. They will eat when they are hungry!
My 20 month eats great??
Don't stress about it!
There are greater things to worry about!

Cut down on sugar intake. Processed store juices have anywhere from 25-30 grams of sugar per cup. Milk has it's own natural sugar, about 12 grams, and Pediasure/Pals has quite a lot, about 18 grams. (as a comparison, an add-water-only type Coolaid mix also has around 18 grams, a can of Coke around 40.) Sugar is an appetite suppressant. It will cause a decrease in appetite and an aversion to foods that are less sweet.
Try weaning him off the juices all together. Give only water with meals, and give milk after meals, but within the hour. I would limit it, and I wouldn't give milk if he didn't eat his meal. I would also cut out the pediasure nutripals all together. Sugar is the second ingredient and Soy oil is the fourth.
If you find that you must give liquids, you could buy a juicer and juice your own foods. There is a natural sweetner called Stevia (Trader Joes carries it)that you can use as a sweetner.

My little boy, who is now 4 1/2 did the same thing. My doctor called it baby aneroxia...and said not to worry it was normal around 2 to 3 years old. But he did suggest to cut down on the milk intake. That can fill him up. Also, no snacking. Believe me...the snacking part was difficult because I used that to get things done quitely with snacks. He will eat when he is hungry. Just offer him food at the same times you eat. They grow out of it.

Try reading Dr. Brazelton. He's wonderful - respected pediatritian and researcher. Kids at this age just don't need as much food as we might think. Three things you can't control and should not turn into battlegrounds: food, toileting, and sleep. Give him a few bites. Check Dr. Brazelton's list to see what he really _needs_ to eat and let off the worry so that a stage doesn't get prolonged because of the emotion your child senses around the issues of food. He's probably just very interested in mastering the physical world right now and can't be bothered to waste time sitting around eating.

Hi K.,
I would cut back on fluids. My daughter only gets milk with meals and only after she has eaten some food first. 24- 36 oz of milk daily is all she gets. I also limit her juice/water intake throughout the day. Maybe having him help you make his food would encourage him to eat more.Stand firm and be consistent.
L.

Try some peas! My daughter didn't really eat alot but she really loved peas. Let her pick them up with her hands and play with them. He might find them interesting!

Hi I am a mom of 4. My girls are all good eaters, I am lucky. One thing we did that helped, If they help MAKE or CHOOSE the food, they were always so excited to eat it! Cracking the egg in the bowl, stirring thigs up. You chop the veggies and they put them in for you. A two year old can wash the grapes and pick them off the stem fo fruit salad! Making Pizza or Tacos at home was fun for my girls because they were creating their own meal. Maybe he can pick some things out in the store (as long as mom narrows the choosing field) If the doc isn't concerned, he is probably ok, so then try to make it fun and give them the impression they have some control over what they eat. It's all a power struggle. Best of luck!

All 3 of our kids went through that stage, at about that age. We called it "the air fern" stage, since they were growing/thriving without any discernable intake of nutrition & figured they must be absorbing it from the air. ;) Anyway, we did find that they were tending to fill up on the liquids, so we cut back on those, especially the juice. We noticed on the nutritional labels that unless it's one of the vitamin fortified brands, like Hansen's, it's mostly sugar, so they were basically living off of sugar. (If you juice your own fresh fruit/veg's, I imagine it retains more of the vitamins, though.) Milk is definitely better, nutritionally, but it doesn't provide all their dietary needs, either, so at meals, we made them eat something before they could have anything to drink. That helped, but they still didn't eat as much as we thought someone that active would need to eat. Anyway, eventually, they start eating again. We still have a rule that no one gets more than 1 juice per day & when we notice at a meal that one of them has been drinking a lot of milk, but not eating much, we push the glass back & make them eat 3-4 bites of something from their plate before they take another drink.

-S. M.

this sounds pretty normal.

He can declare and have some control over part of his life and he enforces it.

When my kids go through this, I don't make her eat, however, I do save her dinner and give it if she tells me she's hungry later.

If she says I don't like it.. she needs to take 2 no thank you bites..

I have the exact same problem. I would love to get any help too!!

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