37 answers

2 Year Old Refuses to Eat

Hi Moms,

I need help! My son decided 2 weeks ago that he no longer wants to eat. He has always been a great eater. Up until now he could eat half a chicken breast for dinner along with a little bit of the sides. He loves pizza and usually eats 2-3 slices. All of a sudden though he no longer wants to eat. He tells me "no like to eat." This has turned into quite the battle at mealtime. I have him sit at the table with us and he just screams. My husband and I are very frustrated because 1) we are concerned about his him getting enough to eat and 2) he has always been well behaved and now we feel like we are constantly disciplining him. Our last big battle was 2 nights ago and he ended up in his room with my husband and he screamed for 20 minutes before calming . The only thing he wants is juice or milk. I am at a complete loss as to what to do. Have any of you experienced something like this?

Oh yes, I know he is not teething. That was my first thought, but his two year molars came in about 3 months ago. He also turned 2 last week. It is like a switch flipped on his birthday and he decided he no longer has to listen or obey the rules.

Thanks so much for your help!


What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Hi Everyone!

Thanks for all of the great advice! I want to clear one thing up though a couple of people said that we should not be yelling or screaming at our son. We do not yell at him. When I said that he ended up in his room with my husband I meant that my son screamed for 20 minutes, not my husband. The only time I have yelled was to get his attention when he is about to do something that will get him hurt (like running out into a busy street) and I want to get his attention quickly.

I love all the advice though! Yesterday I tried to not make eating a big deal and he ate breakfast and lunch with no problem! At dinner I had him sit at the table, but didn't say anything about eating. He refused the food so I just left it near him and he ended up taking 3 bites! I am going to continue to try to have him at least sit with us at the table so that he doesn't think he can just play during meal times. I am also going to try out many of the other great ideas and will let you know how it goes. We are also going to see the doctor for his 2 year check up on Monday so I am going to check with doctor about maybe starting vitamins.

Thanks again!


Featured Answers

If he is hungry he will eat. Don't give in. Give his small drink and his food. If he doesn't eat then take it away. That will teach him that his food is there but when dinner is over its gone. You can save the dinner so if he asks for food you can pull it out. He is trying to have control of something.

1 mom found this helpful

Well.....I'm not a big eater. Try smoothies. You can add green cabbage, fish oil, wheat germ, protein powder, powdered milk.....etc. etc. to bananas and strawberries etc. etc. I own a vita mix. I can make soups too. A regular blender will work too. don't worry too much!!

Been there! 2 year olde are a battle of wills and they pick and choose their fights. My daughter says ' it's not fun to eat'...try to let it go, have him sit at the table but don't push. The more you tell him to the more he'll refuse. Also much as you might be worried, cut the juice and milk and just give him water. They use this as a crutch to get by without food. Eventually he'll get hungry, and he'll eat. Simple as that. If it sounds harsh just try it for a week or 3 days even and see what happens. Good luck!
-mother of a fellow non eater.

More Answers

Hi A.~

Welcome to the twos! There might be a few different things going on here besides the twos though. First I would stick to half a child's sized cup of juice with breakfast and then switch to water. Milk at meals only. I would also cut out the snacks. My daughters both did the same thing about this age and I made it a rule that we no longer snack because I'd prefer they eat the balanced meals. I would serve a reasonable amount of food for each meal. If you pile on the food on a massive plate it might seem like an impossible task to finish it all and they could feel defeated before they even start and then the battle begins. I use kid sized plates and give small portions. Then I don't make it a battle. We sit down to eat and I remind them every few minutes to keep on eating. Take another bite. Don't forget to eat, etc. It sounds a little annoying, but 2-4 year olds get very distracted and can easily forget about the task at hand. Gentle, non-combative reminders help to keep them on track.

I also serve dessert every night. It's not elaborate. Right now, we're still working through Easter candy and Jelly Belly's from a trip to the factory. The rule is - if they eat three meals a day w/out fuss then they can have dessert after dinner. I keep it small, but it's something they look forward to. And unless they go the a party or something special, I don't let them eat sweets at will during the day. Dessert is a privilege and they love it. I started that very young with both kids and they get it. Even if they can't stand what I've served, they gag it down because they can't stand not being included for dessert. I occasionally get an" I don't like this" or "I don't want to eat this" and my response is always the same, "You don't have to like it and you don't have to eat it, but if you want more of something or if you want dessert, then you have to eat what I've served... it's completely up to you, but it would be a huge bummer to miss dessert tonight because I'm serving ice cream." It may not work for all kids, but it works well for us.

So, very little juice, milk only at meals (and not excess amounts), water the rest of the time, no snacking, no sweets, 3 reasonably portioned and well balanced meals a day w/out a fuss, no fighting to get him to eat, and dessert as a reward.

If he still doesn't eat, then take him to the dr.

Best of luck!

2 moms found this helpful

Give him a few days of being hungry if he chooses not to eat. Put his filled plate and cup out in front of him at meal time, but then go about eating your meal without any pressure on him to eat. Help him eat ONLY if he asks. (Yes, this WILL be tough.) He may have been eating a ton to compensate for a growth spurt that has now ended for a bit. Totally limit junk snacks (crackers, cookies, jelly shapes that say they vitamin fortafied) and juice. Milk or water with a healthy snack morning and afternoon. Always have water available in a place he can reach himself.

If he goes more than 3 days without eating something significant, call his doctor. There may be something going on in his gut that is undiscovered. Does he have any problems passing pee or poop?

This may also be a sign of increasing independence. There is so little that they can control at age 2 that the things they figure out they can control they sometimes take to extreme. Have you tried giving him limited choices? "Do you want the red cup or the blue cup?" "You get to choose what we eat tonight! Do you want Potato or Rice?" "Do you want your meat sliced or cubed? Here, I'll show you what they look like so you can decide."
Notice that there are no "Yes/No" questions here.

In addition, let him "help" you cook. Yes, it will take longer to cook, but they get more excited about food they have cooked.

2 moms found this helpful

Sounds like a two year old! As long as he has food in front of him at regular intervals (meals and snacks), you just leave it up to him to eat or not. Don't push him (MUCH easier said than done) and he'll eat when he's hungry. We went through the same thing when my son was about 2 and a half, and this is the advice from our ped. that we followed. He still eats a variety of food now: and the not eating thing comes and goes still. Sometimes I think he's living on air, and other days I wonder if I have enough for dinner! He's a healthy 4 and a half year old now, and his 2 year old sister is starting to do the same thing from time to time now. Weird as it is to us, it is normal!

2 moms found this helpful

I have a little non-eater too and I feel your frustration. He basiclly gave up on food around 18 months and has been that way since (he is now 3).

I agree with Thea S, it is a control issue. All I can advise is follow these basic rules.
1. cook one meal for the family
2. put it on a plate for your son
3. have him sit at the table/high chair for 5 minutes even if he says he doesn't want to eat
4. if he has one mouthful, fine, if he finshes the plate, great, if he eats nothing, put the food away and say there is nothing until the next snack/meal in 3 hours.

What not to do
1. fill him up on milk/juice/other food between meals/snacks
2. ask him to take a bite/mouthful
3. produce the meal later when he decides he wants it
4. stress out

It took me a while to realize that I do my job -- decide when, where and what-- and that the rest is up to him -- whether or not, and how much. My son often goes to bed without as much as a mouthful and he is sleeping and growing just fine.

Once you accept that it is his choice to go hungry, meal times will be enjoyable, rather than a battle ground. And eating is a battle you will not win... ever.

And my last comments to this lengthy response are; trust him to managing how much he needs to eat each day and imagine if someone pressured you into eating your meal when you didn't want any more... it wouldn't make you want to sit at the table the next time, would it!

2 moms found this helpful

He's 2... I'd stop the juice and milk, just give him water, and he'll be hungry soon enough. If he's not, I'd go to the doctor and see if something is going on. But it sounds like he may fill up on juice & milk and then not feel hungry. I'd also say, you don't have to eat but you do have to be nice at dinner, this is when we all sit down and talk about our day. Of course, being 2, this may be impossible. So if that doesn't work, what I used to do with my daughter was just leave her "snack" (whatever she didn't want at lunch) on a table where she could reach it and she would wander over and eat some throughout the day without really thinking about it. Just take the power struggle out of it. Good luck! C.

1 mom found this helpful

I think that Shane B's response was right on. I have 5 kids, my first three all did this at some point in time. In fact, our 3 year old is going through this right now. (my last two are only 9 months, yet to get to this fun stage). I learned not to worry, not to cater or give in just so they'll eat something, to offer nutritious meals & snacks and let them go at their own pace. I really agree with her PS of not going out of your way to make special meals as I know a couple who did that for both kids and the mother would go to two different restaurants or fast food places to placate the appetite of the indulged. They complained about it, but never took responsibility. The rule is, 'this is dinner, you can eat it, but if you don't no dessert or no other food will be given tonight'. Also they have to remain at the table with the family - I found this rule, they wanted to go play and eat later, so they have to sit and now they normally will eat something while sitting there. But it does take persistence! You can do it! Bravo to mom's of the world who battle these things daily! Glad to know we aren't alone.

1 mom found this helpful

2 year olds have so little control over their own lives, that sometimes they do things like this just to take a stand (watch out if he's potty trained, cause that might be the next thing he refuses) you can't physically make him chew and swallow so this is one area where he is really in charge.

My advice is to do what you can to honor his budding independance without letting him run your house. At dinner time, explain what is being served and ask if he would like some. You might let him dish his own plate with some help. If he doesn't want to eat tell him, "okay, just sit here with us while we eat and you may drink your milk."

He may also be more interested in food at this age if you involve him in the food preparation process. My 2 year old and I frequently "cook" together and he loves it. Let him help you get items out of the fridge or pantry; have him count out two tomatoes or whatever; standing at the sink and washing salad vegies is always fun.

I think you will find that if allowed to feel more in control and involved in his own life, he will stop refusing to listen when you really need him to.

1 mom found this helpful

Don't turn eating into a power struggle. Your son can indeed go without food for a while. However, I would not offer him milk or juice, that can fill him up and cause him to not want to eat. Offer him water only. At each meal, offer him what you are eating. If he chooses not to eat, don't fight it. With my son, I usually say, "Take two bites and you don't have to eat any more, but Mommy and Daddy are still eating and we would like to have you sit here with us." Often times when he realizes he can't go play again, he'll start eating.

1 mom found this helpful

1 / 3
Required Fields

Our records show that we already have a Mamapedia or Mamasource account created for you under the email address you entered.

Please enter your Mamapedia or Mamasource password to continue signing in.

Required Fields

, you’re almost done...

Since this is the first time you are logging in to Mamapedia with Facebook Connect, please provide the following information so you can participate in the Mamapedia community.

As a member, you’ll receive optional email newsletters and community updates sent to you from Mamapedia, and your email address will never be shared with third parties.

By clicking "Continue to Mamapedia", I agree to the Mamapedia Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.