HELP PLEASE! My 20 Month Old Son Wont Eat

Updated on June 30, 2010
S.G. asks from Sunnyvale, CA
17 answers

Hi Moms,

I need some serious help here. My 20 month old just wont eat, every single meal time is a serious challenge. We're doing all things wrong, distracting him while feeding, chasing him during meal times, giving him mostly sweet foods, etc. But, I've tried to put him in a high chair and leave the food in front of him and he just plays with it or throws it on the floor (he doesnt use a spoon to feed himself). I have seen other children feeding themselves in a high chair without any fuss. What do their moms do to train them to eat like that? Can you please provide me with your suggestions on how can I discipline my son in terms of feeding. Thank you.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Those kids you see eating un-fussily in a high chair probably haven't eaten in 10 days! LOL
I went through this. I would ask, beg, chase, tempt.....then O. day I had an epiphany. I just thought "I am not going to do this anymore."
I would put his food out and if he got down & walked away--in the trash!
I refused to stress out. Kids will not starve. Stop trying so hard to convince him. "He'll eat when he's hungry" are the truest mommy advice words ever spoken.

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answers from Gainesville on

You are kind of answering your own question. You're chasing him? Giving him sweet foods? I don't get it. Why would he eat under those circumstances? You aren't teaching him anything about being at the table and what is expected and what to expect. Those 2 things are the only way little ones learn effectively and behave.

At every single meal, your son needs to be placed at the table with everyone else and given a small amount of his food-a properly balanced meal. Let him try and you model good eating behavior for him. "Here Billy. Eat your beans like this". Then after a bit offer it to him by you giving it to him on a child size fork or spoon.

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answers from Denver on

This can be frustrating... what is he drinking? Maybe he's filling up on drinks? Can you let him eat first. Try letting him dip his foods - it's "fun" to lots of toddlers - use ranch, ketchup, or healthier yogurt for fruit. We use choc pudding to dip strawberries in for a treat. Also, don't punish for not eating, I think it will make it worse.

Last thought - although probably not the case, by friends daughter had sensory issues w/ food.... wouldn't eat certain textures and basically was only eating fries, crackers and chips... not good.... she went to the Dr. and went to "eating class" and she's much better.

Could he be teeting?

If it goes on too long, I'd check w/ the Dr just rule anything medical out.

Hang in there!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My daughter was in a booster at 18 months. Here are the rules at our house: you eat what is put before you (she has always gotten what we eat), and if you leave the table, you are done eating. If you play with your food, you are done eating. If you play with your fork or knife, they will be taken away. Now, at 27 months, she has to ask to be excused. She also needs to ask someone to help her in the bathroom with washing her hands.

If I was you, I'd move your son to a booster. I'd then tell him the new rules. After a few days of him not eating, he will eat what you give him.

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answers from San Francisco on

I don't think this falls in the discipline catergory...but I don't know that it should, afterall who want's to forever associate food and eating, actual sustanence and nourishment our bodies need with fractured memories of having been disciplined and it's unpleasentness.

With that in mind I wonder if you shouldn't try taking clues from him. Instead of 'serving him at mealtime straped into his throne' place a plate of healthy finger foods that will keep all day on the coffee table or on a snack tray where it is convienent for the two of you and most present in and amongst your daily routine (I know I don't really have one either) but basically where he will be sure to see it and easily access it without disturbing his natural rhythm. Point it out when you first put it out, breakfast and whenever you eat. He'll eat I swear maybe not much but really they honestly don't need much at all, but after a few days he'll devour it, especially if his independance is slyly pointed out by you (after he really takes to this.

Let him be your guide make special mote of when it is he eats most often and the largest portions. See if you notice a trend, after a few weeks move the plate to the kitchen table ensure he's still w/ the program and after a few days only put out on the kitchen table the 3 specific "meals" and the 2 or 3 "snacks" you would prefer he eat, at around the same times throughout the day you noted him eating with the best appetite.

Then set a place at the table get a high chair that straps into a chair or one that hooks onto the table put his food out with yours he'll have to ask for help to get to his food and when he does strap that lil' guy in let him eat or not eat, get down if he chooses, but don't let him eat unless he sits with the family or rather is going along with the desired mealtime routine or preferred snack consuming time and place. He may go to bed hungrybut when he wakes up with hunger pains, feed him but only in the same manner you expect during your normal day. Doubt it will ever come to this...he will have already learned the routine and his tummy will have grown accustomed to being filled at these times, so he'll eat if he's hungry, trust me...he will eat.

Chances are it's just a growth thing the ebb and tide you know???
That you could do nothing and in 3 weeks you'd have a power eater on your hands...they're just like that.

If he doesn't eat as I have promised you he would do eventualy do, and o mean no intake, or his normal disposition isno longer the norm, hisplsy isn't as spirited, his sleep & bathroom habits seem out of whack, his general
self goes missing or seems dry, then you need to see your pediatrician, there may be something biologicaly upset, which no advice, allowing for time, or discipline can fix, and intervening medically is not only now your best shot at treating your son, it would at this point most definitely pertinate, however I doubt this is the case :)

I hope you've garnered some good advice and are able to reap the rewards. Good luck and relax :)

noted him eating best



answers from Tulsa on

maybe he just isn't hungry. kids go through phases and mine used to throw his food if he wasnt' hungry. mine goes through phases he eats like a perfect angel and other times wont touch it and feeds it to the dog :) and as far as the spoon it takes training. my son puts 4 cheerios in a spoon and 2 make it to his mouth. patience he is still young. mine is 25 months and just learning to use a spoon. not having good luck with it either.

patience mom this too will pass.



answers from San Francisco on

When my daughter went through this, I just decided what was an appropriate amount for her to eat and about when that eating should be (about every 3.5 -4 hrs). Three meals and two snacks. At meal times she would sit in a high chair at the table with me and her sister (and daddy when home from work), and I'd put small amounts of each food offered for that meal. I had a plate for her on the table out of reach so I could monitor how much was offered. If she threw her food, no more was offered from the plate. If she didn't eat, she didn't eat. When we were done, she was too whether she ate or not. No other offer of food until the next snack/meal time. For snacks she sat in a booster chair and was offered a snack portion of food from a plastic plate. Same rules. If you throw food, you're done. If you don't eat, fine, go play, but no more food untill the next eating time. I cut out all sweets. I figured if she wasn't going to eat much, it should really good stuff. :) It took about 2 and half days for her to figure out the deal and begin to eat a good amount at each meal. I waited for a good two weeks of good eating before offering back any sweets. If you stay consistant he will get it quickly. The old saying is true, kids won't starve themselves!
I also wanted to address the term discipline. It seems a lot of mamas out there seem to think that discipline means punishment. Actually, that is not true at all. Discipline just means 'a good way to go', or 'correct path'. Think about self discipline. Does that mean you punish yourself? Of course not! You are just making the conscious decision to stay on a correct path (cutting down on sweets, keeping anger in check, staying in budget, etc.). Disciplining a child is just sending them on a good way to go, staking out the path for them. That involves consequences, both good and bad. Staying on the path gets good consequences (praise, happy parents, fun play at the park, dessert, etc.), straying off the path gets not-so-good consequences (no tv, angry voices from parents, no treats, etc.). Basically teaching them one of life's great truths. Life is easier and happier when you realize that the rules apply to you!


answers from San Francisco on

I must be really "old school" but I'm a little surprised by these responses.
Just keep offering your son healthy foods 4 or 5 times a day, sitting down WITH YOU while you eat. No more than 15-20 minutes. He'll eat when he's hungry, he won't starve to death. Food is nutrition, epecially at this age, so don't just give him junk because that's what he'll eat. Only offer what you really want him to eat, fruit, veges, protiens, dairy, grains, etc. I don't understand why American moms are soooo concerned about how much their kids eat??? All my kids went through phases (more than once) where they either hardly ate anything or they ate everything in sight, and none of them ever drank milk. They are now 17, 14 and 11 and perfectly normal and healthy, and very athletic. So that's my two cents, relax and enjoy dinner time, even if junior doesn't eat a bite :)


answers from Detroit on

First... I feel your pain. I refuse to chase the kids to get them to eat though. After a while, he'll get hungry enough to eat what you're offering.

Second... Both of my kids have gone through stages where they don't want to eat anything. Heck... I have those days. Sometimes several in a row.

I began toddler formula with my son for days when he refuses to eat. That way he still gets his vitamins and minerals.

Discipline is not the answer. When my son throws food... He's done. If he asks for food. I will give him what I offered earlier. If he still refuses... And I KNOW it's something that he likes (and is healthy for him) he still won't eat until he's ready to eat something that is not junk. The other day, he wanted in the fridge. I asked him if he wanted several different things. He kept yelling at me, "NO mama!" Then I asked him what he wanted then. He says, "Yagurt mama." He's not 2 yet. But he knew EXACTLY what he wanted.

Neither of my kids really eat meals per se. They snack all day and will sit down at the dinner table with DH and I and have a few bites of whatever we're eating, but they need constant energy sources. That's why they seem to eat non stop all day. As long as they're going for the healthy stuff most of the time (90%), that's completely fine with me.



answers from Sacramento on

I have as many questions as I have answers for you. My first question is are you feeding him at the same time the rest of the family eats? If not, that's my first answer... do have him sit at the table with the rest of the family.
Second ? ... can you arrange some type of booster seat so that rather than being in the high chair, he gets more of a feeling of sitting at the table with you. The high chair sets a child apart from the family table. If the child is sitting at the same table with the family he gets to watch better what other family members are doing when eating and is better able to copy good eating habits and manners.
Feed your son the same menu you eat ... though you may have to do a bit of accomodation for his age and ability, such as cutting food into smaller pieces, eliminating any strong flavored foods that other family members may like, or eliminating any spices on foods that are too strong for his taste.
If possible, give your son a small plate that looks like the larger plates other family members are eating from. The salad plate from a set of dishes works well for this. In this way you are making him feel more a part of the family when eating.
Put small portions of each food on the plate. It's easy to add more food when he eats the smaller portions, and not having as much food on the plate at first helps keep down messes as well as being more encouraging for him to want to eat. I try to keep portions at this age to approximately a teaspoonful of each item.
You mention he does not feed himself with a spoon yet. Most children his age are just learning to do that. Don't be too worried that he uses his hands to get most of his food to his mouth, but do encourage him to start using the spoon. Give him some bites with the spoon yourself, and then encourage him to pick up the spoon himself. You may even see him soon want to use a fork because he's seeing the rest of the family using forks. If so, get him a smaller fork and let him try it. You will need to watch him closely as he is learning to manipulate the utensils, but he will soon get the hang of it and be on his own. Expect him to alternate between utensils and fingers for eating until he is four or five years of age. This is ok. Even as an adult, I find that some things just don't pick up easily on the spoon or fork, so imagine a small child's reaction when the utensil isn't working as he needs it to... naturally he is going to go back to what works easiest.
Begin teaching him that it isn't OK to throw food on the floor. Definitely give allowances for him simply dropping or spilling because he isn't proficient yet at feeding himself, but if you see that he is deliberately throwing food on the floor, tell him firmly that it isn't Ok for him to do that. Be aware that the spoon and fork are apt to be thrown down too.. and the same advice about the difference between normal accidental dropping and deliberate throwing applies to those too.
It does take time, patience and a lot of work to teach a child how to eat properly. You may feel like your meal is too interrupted, but believe me, it will all be worth the effort in the long run. If you feel like you never get to eat your own meal in peace because you are working with your son, try taking turns with daddy at some meals. Once in a while, leave your son with a sitter or at grandma's house while you have a nice dinner out (or even at home) with your husband so you get a break from the feeling that you are constantly teaching and never getting to enjoy a meal on your own.
Here's where I'm coming from, so you'll understand that I'm not just making idle suggestions... We have our own in home childcare with five little ones in our care. Currently we care for two girls ages 6 and 4, who are mostly proficient at feeding themselves.. but still have the occasional spill that we need to help them clean up. We also have two boys, 3 1/2 yo and 2 3/4 yo, who are still learners at the table. We have worked with each of these children through the age your son is now, and we are approaching beginning the process with a little girl who is currently 8 months of age. Mealtimes are sometimes a bit frustrating, but mostly a lot of fun with these little guys. We spend time with them in conversation as well as in teaching them how to eat properly and use good table manners.
One thing I haven't mentioned is that we don't use sippy cups or a lot of plastic utensils and dishes. We start training a child to a regular (glass) cup or glass at the age of our little 8 month old girl. She has been practicing drinking from a small juice glass for about six weeks now, and is starting to get the idea of how to use it. By the time she's a year old, I expect I'll be able to actually let her hold it on her own and drink from it. She wants to pull it from me now, but I'm not ready to let her make that much mess yet!
Remember, teaching young children can be a messy job, but it's the way they learn, and messes do clean up. You will most likely have days when you think you can't possibly go on with the messes and the work of teaching your child to eat properly, but it will be over before you realize it and you'll have a child you can take with you anywhere and not be embarrassed by poor eating habits and manners.
Oh! And don't fret too much because you think he isn't eating enough. Just keep on giving him plenty of good choices and he'll get what he needs.



answers from San Francisco on

my sons struggle with eating at times too, I give my 2 year old a tooth pick and let him stand in a chair at the table. He likes to poke the food with the tooth pick and then eat it. He also like to dip his food, either ketchup, plain yogurt, or salsa. I usually put butter on steamed veggies too. Remind him in order to grow big he needs to eat healthy foods. Also limit sweets until after meal times, I use dessert as a bribe, or positive reinforcement when healthy foods are eaten. When my toddler totally refuses to sit and eat at the table we have a time out chair right next to the table where he can sit until he is ready to eat, we rarely have to use the time out chair but sometimes it is needed and within 5-7 minutes my son has decided to come eat with us
good luck to you



answers from San Francisco on

Please realize that part of this is that it's your job to teach him how to behave at the table. This doesn't happen in a few nights. Hopefully he is eating with all of you at the dinner table. Research is showing how important family dinners are. (One of the few things I have done "right") Do NOT chase him around for meals. He will think this is a game. Also you are teaching him that he can do what he wants and not what you expect. Hate to say this, but these issues are laying the foundation for when they are teenages. So it's dinner time, everyone comes to the table. If he doesn't come, either pick him up and put him in the high chair or if catching him is a problem sit down at the table and start eating. He will likely come on his own, then you can put him in the high chair. Also no food unless he is in the chair. I never had different food for the kids. They eat what we eat. Obviously you have to cut things smaller, etc. For new foods it often takes many times of giving it to them, before they will eat it. I would put a small amount and ask them to try. As for his throwing the food down - from his perspective it's a fun game. So don't make a huge deal, except say we don't throw the food. Tell him once, then twice, on the third time the food is removed and he sits there until everyone is done. There will be screaming, but eventually he will learn the rules. Don't yell at him or give him extra attention. Again sometimes they want any attention, even if it's negative. Mothers tend to worry that their baby isn't getting enough to eat or will starve. Most kids will not let themselves starve. A few missed meals won't hurt them. Not learning how to behave at the dinner table will evnetually mean people won't want to be around him. Also you could start out by telling him about an hour before dinner what behavior you expect from him - no throwing food, sit in the high chair until everyone is finished, etc. Remind him again as you put him in the chair. It's amazing how much they can understand! If you think about it our job is to teach kids the rules. We often don't tell them directly what the rules are and expect them to just figure it out. Sound confusing to me. Good luck. (My kids are now 10, 14, 16, & 19 - we all survived, so will you)



answers from San Francisco on

Your son is doing what he's been allowed to do - no big surprises there. You should sit him in his high chair with his food in front of him (spoon or no spoon, it's your choice) and expect him to eat and not play with his food. If he plays with it, give him a warning and if it continues, get him down, he's done. And do not give him anything else to eat until the next regularly scheduled meal. He won't starve but he will behave and eat once he gets hungry enough. Also, don't give in and give him the sweet foods just so he'll eat. you're grooming a diabetic/obese child like that. Again, he will not starve and he will eat what's in front of him if he gets hungry enough. It's really all about what you allow him to do and expect from him. Sometimes I think my granddaughter must be starving because she simply won't eat her meals - she's trying to hold out for candy. So, she gets down from the table without eating and then when she asks for chips or cookies or whatever a little while later, the answer is no. She gets mad, says she's hungry, but I just tell her then you'll eat next time won't you and by golly she does! So when she comes to my house she eats all her veggies and her meat ( which is all I require) without a problem. Her mom is just amazed but I tell her it's because I expect it and she knows it so there's no fooling around. She wants her dessert and she does what she has to do to get it.



answers from Bakersfield on

Hi Mama-
I am not really sure of what works best, but I watched my sister with her son. He is 21 months old and was the same way for a while. She started instituting the time out for spoon throwing, food throwing, and general tantrums in the high chair. It was painful to watch at first, but now- he mostly eats, and sometimes with a spoon. He still has a hard time wanting to throw the food around when he gets bored, and sometimes he needs to run it off before he eats more. And then he comes back to the table with an open mouth for A bite before running again. He is really energetic, but I have noticed that if you do not allow him to snack much and he really is hungry, he will be a better eater. Also, if he decides he is done eating, then he is done. If he asks for food later, we give him his dinner, not a snack. If he refuses then he isn't really hungry.
I hope that helps some.
Good luck
-E. M



answers from Flagstaff on

My kids never get away with throwing food or not eating what I give them. If they don't eat, they are done until the next meal. If they throw food same thing. Just put your foot down. He will be alright health wise because after once or twice he won't do it again. He will learn you are not going to give in.



answers from Dallas on

Hi S.,

Just wanted to give you a virtual hug. I'm going through the same thing with my 20 month old son. In fact, I'm taking him back to the dr. tomorrow because I'm concerned at how skinny he is.

Rules are great, but when you have a child that just doesn't LIKE to eat - that flies right out of the door. I've always said I wouldn't give my child junk food, but I have - if only to ensure he gets in some calories.

He's happy and energetic, but eating just isn't his thing. I'm praying he's fine and that this is how his body is going to work.

I pray the same for yours.




answers from Phoenix on

My daughter (when she was 1 - 3 yrs old) was placed in a high chair at the table with us and if she threw food, spit it out, dropped it, or refused to eat it she sat in her highchair with us with no food until we were done eating. If she proceeded to throw a fit she would be excused to her room until bath time/brush teeth time then bedtime with no dinner. If she sat nicely and did not eat while we were she would have one last chance to eat and if she still played around or refused she would go hungry for the night. It only takes a few meals of nothing before they catch on and realize they should eat or they will be hungry.

It is your job as the parent to be firm and to make rules and stick with them. I also cut out all juice (empty calorie filler) and snack foods accept fruits, yogurt, vegetables, and string cheese. The more sugar they have the more they are filled with empty calories and the more they want to eat the junk.

It will be hard the first few days even a week but you have to pull in the reigns and be the parent. Your kid needs to know who rules the roost at dinner time and that this behavior is not acceptible and that you will no longer tolerate it.

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