Toddler at the park wearing a green t-shirt looking at the camera and smiling
Toddler not eating? Reasons why & what to do
Discover the reasons why, including common toddler eating habits and helpful solutions to get your little one eating again.
A toddler eating

Reasons why your toddler is refusing to eat

• Neophobia (fear of anything new) peaks at around 18 months and food neophobia becomes highly prevalent at this age. It’s a process every toddler undergoes at some point in their early stages of life that occurs around the time your toddler learns to walk and move around independently. 

• Change - toddlers are notoriously temperamental and the changes that are going on for them in their development means that they are particularly sensitive. 

• Growth and smaller appetite - a slower growth rate in toddler years means their appetite is going to reduce too.

• Independence - the toddler years are a time for asserting independence in many ways

• Too many distractions - toddlers are easily distracted and never more so than when it’s time to eat. 

• Tiredness - your toddler may simply be too exhausted to eat. 

• Teething and illness- both play a part in effecting your toddlers appetite. 
A toddler sitting on a high chair, crying with his hand stretched out

What to do if your toddler won't eat

• Prepare your toddler for what’s to come on their plate. Toddlers are not a fan of unexpected surprises on their plates, so make sure you include them in planning, shopping and preparing meals. 

• Reduce meal and portion sizes or incorporate family style serving. Often toddlers can feel overwhelmed with the amount of food placed on their plate and it can deter them from even wanting to eat. 

• Empty plates are not the goal! Don’t force toddlers to finish everything on their plate. Forcing your toddler to eat more than they feel like is overriding their natural internal hunger signals.

• Use divider plates with at least two ‘safe foods’ that you know they enjoy. However, try not to get caught in the habit of always using them – save divider plates for serving a new food alongside two safe foods a couple of times a week.

• Avoid being repetitive with meals


Is it normal for toddlers to refuse to eat?

Toddlers are notorious for their selectiveness when it comes to food. If your toddler seems to have taken a pass on meal times, it’s entirely possible that this is a normal albeit exasperating stage of their development. With time, their tastes and eating habits will return as long as you continue to offer a variety of foods.

Whilst picky eating or even a temporary halt on eating altogether is not usually a cause for concern, there are times when it’s best to seek advice from your health visitor or GP.

When should I worry about my toddler not eating?
  • Accepts fewer than 15 foods (including treats, snacks and drink)

  • Is losing weight

  • Dislikes or refuses entire food groups (grains, dairy, proteins, etc.)

  • Goes for several days without eating at all

  • Is fixated on certain food brands or packaging

  • Requires a different meal from the rest of the family
  • Is anxious in social situations because of food
  • Has a dramatic emotional response to disliked foods, such as screaming, running away, or gagging at the sight or smell of particular foods
What causes poor appetite in toddlers?

Aside from the usual, tiredness, teething, asserting independence and a slowing of growth which effect toddler’s appetites; one of the most common causes for loss of appetite in toddlers is iron deficiency – anaemia, caused by not eating enough iron rich foods such as meat, eggs and fortified cereals. Anemia can cause a lack of appetite and decreased energy levels. A simple blood test can determine if your toddler is anaemic. Drinking too much cows milk can also interfere with iron being absorbed.