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Does Not Eat

What to do:

Self-talk. Say to yourself, "It's okay if my child doesn't eat at every meal. My job is to provide healthy food, not make him eat it. When he's hungry, he'll eat. And when he's not, it's okay. I can deal with this situation."

Empathy. Ask yourself, "Why do I think my child doesn't want to eat?" There may be several reasons: 1) She may not be hungry; 2) she may not want to stop what she's doing; 3) she gets your attention by not eating or by playing with food; or 4) she may think that she will get fat and be teased if she eats. Thinking about your child's not eating by noticing when it happens helps you see if there's a pattern to her not eating and helps you understand what it feels like to be in your child's shoes.

Teach. Tell yourself, "I can help my child learn to enjoy good food and to be comfortable eating when she's hungry."

Breast or Bottle-Feeding May Interfere With Eating Solid Foods. As your infant and toddler transition to eating more solid food after their first year of life, be mindful that bottle or breastfeeding doesn't interfere with eating solid food. Keep a reasonable interval between liquid feedings and solid food offerings.

Make Sure Your Child Has a Balanced Diet Over Time. At snacks and meals, offer a variety of foods for good nutrition. Small and more frequent food offerings in a greater variety and balance of protein, carbohydrates and fruits/vegetables ensure your child gets a balanced diet over meals during each day and every day.

Encourage Less Food, More Often for Toddlers and Preschoolers. Let your child eat as often as she likes, within limits. Say, "Whenever you're hungry, let me know, and you can have carrot sticks, a banana or an apple."

Let Your Child Choose Foods. Let your child choose her between-meal snack or lunch food (with your supervision). Offer her only two choices at a time, so she isn't overwhelmed with decision-making and can feel good about choices; praise her choices with comments like "I'm glad you chose that orange. It's really a delicious, healthy snack."

Provide Variety and Balance. Children need to learn about a healthy diet, which involves a wide range of foods. Expose your child to the various tastes, textures, colors, and aromas of nutritious foods-her hunger will be naturally satisfied and your encouragement takes away the worry that she will eat foods that are not good for her

Set a Meal-Time Schedule. Children do best when they have a routine and know what will happen next, so try to have meals around the same time every day. Your child will then come to expect that it's mealtime at a certain time.

Play Beat the Clock to Motivate Coming to Meals. Set your phone timer and say, "When the timer rings, it will be dinner time. So when you hear the timer, let's see how fast you can get to the table."

Praise Meal-Time Behavior. Calling attention to appropriate behavior at the table not only helps that behavior stay around, but also gives your child attention so she doesn't have to use refusing to eat to get attention. Say, "You are sitting so nicely and using your spoon." Or, "Thank you for trying the broccoli."

What not to do:

Don't Bribe or Beg. When your child is not eating, don't bribe or beg her to clean her plate. This makes not eating a game to get your attention, which gives your child a feeling of power over you.

Don't Get Upset When Your Child Won't Eat. Giving your child attention for not eating can make not eating much more interesting to her than eating.

Don't Skip Meals Yourself. Skipping meals gives your child the idea that not eating is okay for her since it's okay for you.

Don't Emphasize a Big Tummy or Idolize a Bone-Thin Physique. Even a 3-year-old can become irrationally weight conscious if you show her how to be focused on being fat as a problem of eating or thin as a goal of not eating.

The authors and Raised with Love and Limits Foundation disclaim responsibility for any harmful consequences, loss, injury or damage associated with the use and application of information or advice contained in these prescriptions and on this website. These protocols are clinical guidelines that must be used in conjunction with critical thinking and critical judgment.