Our 21 Month Old Son Eats Small Amounts Every 1-2 hours....driving Us Crazy!

Updated on July 27, 2011
M.T. asks from Saint Paul, MN
12 answers

Hi, it would be great to get your input on this.
As in the title, my son is almost 2 years old, but eats so often! This is like a new born!
He throws food when he doesn't want anymore/wants to get off high chair. To teach him not to throw, we started to get him off high chair if he throws - but by that time he's not interested in eating even if we take the food from the tray and keep him in, he wouldn't be interested in it either. He's also started to learn to somehow sneak off the belt and stand up on the high chair (although we have tightened the belt), so he'll just try to get out by standing (which is dangerous).

So, he gets off - but within 1.5 hours or 2 hours, he gets fussy and wants to eat again! It's like we're constantly feeding him on weekends. We have milk in sippy all the time that he can grab, but he wants to eat solid food.

I'm shocked that at day care he doesn't have to eat untl lunch at 11 (after his breakfast at 6:40am), and then all he gets is a snack at 3:30 or so and he's fine. But he's starved when he comes home though -so he must be forgetting he's hungry because he's too busy playing.

Anyways, any ideas to get him to eat more so we're not feeding him constantly and he doesn't get fussy/clingy? Thank you!

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So What Happened?

Wow, it's so nice to know that it's a normal and a GOOD way for a toddler to eat! -- although it's a hassle and I have trouble thinking of (and prepping) varied enough things for him to eat at each meal/snack. I'll try to schedule these meals/snack times too, so it'll be more predictable and structured. Now it feels like constant chaos. I guess I should be more concerned about him not getting a morning snack at daycare, but I don't think the provider will do anything about it. When I ask her if he gets hungry and fusses before lunch time, she just says he's "fine." Maybe I'll ask her more about it.

Again, thank you for your input!

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answers from Anchorage on

Stop indulging him. If he does not want to eat at meal time, allow a small healthy snack, but make him wait until the next meal to really eat. I make 3 meals a day, and the kids are allowed one snack (like crackers or chips, junkie stuff) and other than that they can have fruit anytime they want. Fruit is their "free food" that has no restrictions on it.

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answers from Seattle on

Nutritionists wish we'd ALL eat multiple small meals in a day. It's just a gazillion times healthier.

It's also what most people are wired for. Eating small meals ever 2-3 hours.

I "serve" 6 meals a day. Technically I cook 3, and then we eat the leftovers from the first two, and have hot chocolate before bed.

Something I did when my son was little (and before I took nutrition), and as a matter of fact still HAVE, is a shelf for my son in the fridge. All of his leftovers and any healthy food he can have at any time, and his milk cup are all on his shelf. Have at, kiddo. It was WATCHING him 'feed on demand' that was such a huge eye opener. How he'd eat about half of what I gave him, and then 2-3 hours eat the other half... day after day after day.

We didn't even know he was hypoglycemic until he started school. The school nurse LOVED that my son had an Rx to come to his office twice a day for a snack. Wished that every other kid could eat every 3 hours also, but there was no way the school would do such a thing.

((HINT: When most of us were kids, that was "our" schedule, because school was only 6 hours long. Breakfast. 3 hour later; Lunch at school. 3 hours later home and a snack. 3 hours later dinner (or tea, and then 3 hours after tea, dinner... depending on whether or not you came from an early to bed family or not. Tea was at 5, with sammies or scones, Dinner at 8). When our grandparents were kids, that was the schedule as well if they were on a farm; first breakfast, work, 2nd breakfast, school lunch, snack, supper.))

It's only since the 60's & 70's that Americans have shifted into a 3 meal a day paradigm. Coincided with the feminist movement and afterschool daycare, but I don't know if it's correlational or not. Because the military has always 'skimped' on meals with 3 a day, so it could very well be in relation of most of the male population getting 'used' to "3 squares" if they were lucky during WWII.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I believe grazing is best for toddlers of this age group. I WANT my grandson to eat like that because he never does more than nibble and we have a hard time getting him to learn how to eat new foods. So I introduce a little every couple of hours on purpose.

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answers from Denver on

his tummy is about the size of his tiny fist...

toddlers graze. it's just what they do.

my nearly 2 yo grazes while my (much larger) 3 yo mows down her meals.
lots of changes happen in the body over the first 5 years of life.

just be patient. he'll grow, this won't last forever.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

That sounds like typical toddler eating-patterns. Feed him before he gets whiny and fussy.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

Hi Mary Anne,
I am not an expert, but according to Dr. Sears, toddlers enjoy grazing all day. that is, that is their natural eating habits, and our 3 meal a day thing is actually less natural. For our son, we do serve 3 meals, but keep out healthy snacks all day, and encourage this to ensure he gets all of his nutrients. I save most leftovers and serve them as snacks later.

It sounds like maybe what I wrote is not what you would like to read. I apologize for that, but I do hope that maybe it will let you know that you are not alone and neither is your son.
Good Luc, Jilly

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Your son's eating patterns are probably more normal than not. Many kids really can't hold much food at one time and do much better when "grazing" from small plates of nutritious finger-foods throughout the day – cut pieces of fruit and vegetables with yogurt dip, whole-grain bread with hummus or peanut butter, cheese wedges. This helps keep blood sugar at a more even level, rather than having it climb and dip. This is also healthier for many adults than filling up on three big meals a day, although it's sure not as convenient for working folks.

Your son probably eats more at a sitting at daycare because that's what all the other kids are doing. Peer pressure is effective even with young kids. And he stays so busy playing between snacks, he may not pause to think about being hungry. My grandson has always been that way.

But your toddler's got years of enormous change still in front of him. He'll be a very different, much more capable child by the time he's 3 or 4. He doesn't have to know or understand table manners yet. He will grow into them as he matures. It's okay to keep him at the table for only as long as he has patience and appetite, then let him down to play in the family's presence. It's all good!

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answers from Daytona Beach on

i agree with the grazing. when my daughter was this age, i would get those puffs from gerber and lay them on the side table or coffee table and when she was hungry she could just go get a snack. didn't interfere with her mealtimes at all.



answers from Honolulu on

1) Toddlers/kids, OFTEN HATE high-chairs.
my kids included when that age.

2) At growth-spurts, kids eat, ALL the time and GRAZE all day. Its normal and fine. They need the intake. Just give healthy foods.
Kids need to snack... it also keeps their blood-sugar even keeled and so they don't get fussy or moody.

3) When he is done eating, let him leave. My kids, KNOW their body's cues... for hunger or fullness. That is the way it should be. Not eating according to emotion... or having to eat ALL and everything on a plate.
Everyone... has differing needs for hunger and fullness.

4) LET him, just eat, not in the high-chair. Just at the table on a chair. My kids did that always. Or using a booster seat, on top of the dining chair.

5) Kids, need to eat, when hungry. And snack.
That daycare... does not have a morning snack. That would bother me. My kids' Preschools, have a morning snack, lunch at 11:00-11:30, and then for the kids staying later, they have an afternoon snack.
Kids NEED it. Aside from their meal time.

6) WHEN your child comes home from school, he NEEDS a snack. YES they are STARVED. Give him a banana. An apple and cup of milk etc.
This is normal.

7) Have dinner, earlier.
When kids are over-tired, they cannot eat, even if hungry. They are TOO tired... and fussy by then. To eat. Both my kids are like that.

8) WHEN a kid comes home from school, they are spent. Fatigued. Over-tired. From 'working' all day at school/daycare/preschool. They have to just DEFLATE and unwind. Let him. Unwind after coming home.
Just like an adult coming home from after work.
It is a LONG day at daycare/school, for a young child. They come home and are just tired and worn out and hungry.

9) FEED him, when hungry. Snacks. And then his mealtimes.
Getting him to eat more... just so he does not eat constantly, will not work. BECAUSE, when a kid is hungry, they are going by their biological cues for hunger. And they NEED to eat. Then. Or... any kid will get fussy and moody and melt-down.

WHEN having a growth-spurt.. my kids, eat ALL the time. THEY need it. I feed them. My kids, get hungry even 10 minutes after a full meal. I don't have a problem with that. They need it. And my kids, go according to their biological cues for hunger. They do not eat, for emotional reasons or for boredom.
If my kids are hungry, they are HUNGRY.
If you don't feed a hungry kid, they get FUSSY.
AND moody.
AND clingy.

AND in my daughter's case, she gets Hypoglycemic. ie: low blood sugar and that just makes a kid MORE moody and fussy, if hungry, and when hungry.
When my daughter gets like that, I FEED her. Then, voila! She feels better and is no longer fussy and moody and clingy.
The body... needs it, biologically.

It is not for emotional reasons or per 'rules.'

When kids, are constantly hungry.... it SIGNALS that they are going through a growth-spurt. Even our Pediatrician, said so. Feed the child.
Kids NEED to GRAZE throughout the day.

What if, someone made you gorge and eat a ton at dinner time (so that you got overly full), even if you didn't want to? Or when you were hungry and light-headed, did not l let you have a light snack? Wouldn't that make you.... in a bad mood, too?

Having or making a kid, gorge at meal time, just to avoid them from having needed snacks and to make them full to avoid needed snacks... won't work.
Kids (and adults) should eat according to biological hunger cues and cues for fullness. Not over eating, all at one meal.
Even for adults, grazing is the healthiest... because it keeps our body's system and metabolism... more even keeled. Not to mention, our moods.

My kids get hungry every 1/2 hour or less, when hitting growth spurts. They are lean tall healthy kids. I feed them when hungry. Even if it is not meal time.
We all, graze.
I basically feed my kids, whenever hungry. And sure, they eat at regular meal times too.
We eat healthy. Not junk.
My kids grow like weeds and are lanky.
Growing all the time.


answers from Kansas City on

you are letting him act like that. the reason he is okay at daycare is because obviously they have rules and structure. stop letting him misbehave like that. Do breakfast in the morning, with a snack an hour or so later. Then lunch in the afternoon, snack the same. Then dinner in the evening with a night snack. Keep giving him the sippy, but maybe less milk during the day as that also fills him up. Do milk at meals and then water the rest of the day. He is playing games and know he will get away with it. If he doesnt want to eat his meal, fine, put him down, through out the food, but then he gets no snack. make him wait until the next meal until he gets to eat again. Our son tried this game too. took 1 day of us doing this until he realized that wasnt going to work.



answers from New York on

This is an extremely healthy way to eat. He should be eating 6 times a day. You should insist that he sit in his chair during meal time; establish a routine for snack time in between.



answers from Syracuse on

This sounds exactly like my 18 month old. I try to give him a big breakfast as soon as he gets up, lots of fruit, peanut butter toast, yogurt and cereal around 7-8AM. At 10 AM, he has a snack which is usually more fruit and a cheese stick, crackers. Then he has lunch at 12 which is chicken,pasta, veg. Another snack at 3PM (cheese, trail mix, fruit) and then dinner at 6PM (chicken or ham, vegetable, fruit) and dessert. He has a great appetite and is very active. He also has a great temperament which I think is related to the fact that he eats steadily throughout the day.

I think what you're describing is normal, he's growing and needs the food for energy. As long as you're giving him mostly healthy foods, I would feed him when he's hungry.

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