Quick Tips to Get Your Toddler to Eat

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash.

As adorable as they are, and toddlerhood is my favorite stage, toddlers can also be a handful. With a new will of their own, the ability to say, “No,” and definite likes and dislikes, getting them to do what you want — even something as simple as, oh, wearing clothes, can be a challenge. Getting them to eat can be, too — this is when they seem to go through phases where they only want the same thing for dinner 17 nights in a row until they decide they don’t want it EVER again. With toddler twins, I’m constantly struggling to stay on top of the lunch and dinner game. We do eat together on weekends, but during the week my husband gets home too late to usually eat as a family. Here are some things I have found to be slightly helpful on most days. When they’re in the mood.

Turn off the TV: Sometimes after a long day at preschool, especially when it’s hot outside and they’re just wiped out, Daniel Tiger offers them a chance to just veg and recharge. I’m not going to lie, those 30 minutes of quiet time when I know they’re glued to the TV can be lifesaving when I’m trying to make dinner and get into our evening routine. But turning off the TV and making them sit at the table means they will eat better. You cannot see the TV from our kitchen table, so I’ve learned to just turn it off and tell them they can watch after they finish. This a 1) shameless bribe to get them to eat all their food  so they can watch again while I start my own dinner, and 2) keeps them from not eating because they are distracted and spaced out by “A Tiger Family Trip.”

Small portions: Young children seem to vary wildly in how much and what they’ll eat on any given day, so I’ve learned to start small. I put what I want them to eat most on their plate first in a small amount. That way they aren’t overwhelmed and can look at it and reasonably finish it. If they want more, they can have it, but I don’t want to waste food either.

Give them only one thing at a time:  I’ve found a huge plate of food just is too much for them. I give them what I really want them to eat first, followed by the next thing, and then the next. If I need to, I resort to a bribe of a cookie or popsicle on the nights they really aren’t eating anything. Sometimes they get down from the table not having eaten anything, but I leave their plate there so they can come back to it until we go upstairs for baths, instead of letting them get a snack.

Sit with them: I know, this is a precious five or 10 minutes when they are occupied when you can make lunches for tomorrow, get some dishes done or switch the laundry. But I’ve noticed when I sit with my toddlers, they sit in their seats longer and eat more. I even play silly the-spoon-is-an-airplane or train games with them when I want them to try a food I’m not sure they’ll eat (or when they aren’t eating something I know they like). Sitting with them means (since they are too big for high chairs and can unbuckle and climb out of their booster seats themselves now) that they don’t get down as soon as they get bored or make up their mind they are finished after one bite because they want to come upstairs with me while I look for my older son’s library book.

Watch the snacks: My kids have a small snack in the car on the way home, like applesauce or cheese, and then we eat within the hour. I’ve found if I don’t get started on their dinner as soon as we walk in the door, they just whine and cry because they’re hungry, and then I give them a snack until dinner is ready because at witching hour I can’t stand the whining and crying, and then they don’t eat dinner. And then I’m annoyed I made dinner and they didn’t eat it.

Watch the milk: My kids love milk. It never occurred to me this liquid could fill them up to the point where they weren’t eating meals, but my pediatrician mentioned it to me at a well visit once. Now we save milk for after breakfast and right before bed, so it’s not filling them up during or before meals.

Those are my best tips, what are yours? I’ll take any ideas I can get!

Meg Sacks
Meg is a working mom of four and an avid community volunteer. She has worked in corporate communications and media relations for more than 18 years, for a Fortune 500 company as well as a non-profit. She took some time off to enjoy life as a stay at home mom after the birth of her first child in 2008. Her sweet, introverted daughter, was excited to welcome her baby brother in 2013, and then boy/girl twins joined the family in 2016. Meg finds being an “office mama” a constant balancing act and never-ending challenge but enjoys the opportunities it offers her for personal growth. A Virginia girl at heart, she loves Florida’s warm weather, the great quality of life Jacksonville offers her family.


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