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Why isn’t my child eating, and what can I do?

And since we’ve examined in a previous article the reasons why a baby’s not eating, let’s see what happens when our child grows to be a toddler, at the preschool age.

As you may already know, many children at that age will develop specific food preferences, selective eating, or reduced appetite. Let’s examine these in greater detail.

Why isn’t my child eating, and what can I do?

Reduced food intake

Let’s say that a child, as a baby, was consuming large quantities of food, and after they grew to be about 12–18 months, those quantities were reduced to very small. This is something that would worry every parent, but it’s natural if we consider their growth rate. Up to a baby’s first birthday, their weight usually triples, while after that, their growth is about +2–3 kilograms a year. So, this reduced growth rate is affecting our child’s appetite.

Habits that may be connected to reduced appetite are increased milk consumption and multiple snacks between meals, which are both factors that contribute to their daily caloric intake, and are also factors that we might not calculate sometimes. In general, milk consumption shouldn’t be more than 2 glasses a day, something that should be covering 25% of the daily calories a child 1–2 years old needs.

Additionally, the number of meals should be adjusted for your child. There are no strict rules. After the first 12 months, it would be good to have 3 main meals, but the number of snacks might range from 1 to 3. So, for the child that wants to snack often throughout the day, you should create a stable meal schedule and insist on following it.  

Selective eating or refusal of certain foods

Some of you might have also had a baby that used to eat everything offered to them, but then made a 180-degree turn regarding their choices. Many factors could be affecting that, but in general, it’s normal and far from permanent.

The main reasons leading to that kind of behaviour are as follows:

  • your baby is testing your resistance and their autonomy, so the word they most commonly say is no,
  • your baby has neophobia, another normal characteristic of children at that age, which is considered to be protecting them from consuming dangerous foods (like poisonous plants),
  • they had a bad food experience due to some allergy (prolonged vomiting leading to a negative relationship with food and not only the person responsible),
  • your baby kept eating purees for longer, something that might lead to even more selectiveness due to the reduced variety in types and textures of their food.  

The additional factors we saw in the article related to infancy are added to those above, that is, an overstimulating environment, distress, constipation, and more.

Why isn’t my child eating

More specifically, to manage such a situation, you have the following options available to you:

  1. Continue offering foods normally, even if your child refuses to eat them. The exclusion of certain foods will lead to an even stricter selectiveness and will reduce variety even further.Προσφέρετε ποικιλία τροφών και υφών μέσω επαναλαμβανόμενης έκθεσης.
  2. Offer a variety of foods and textures through repeated exposure. Exposure isn’t only related to trying out the food. Start from visual exposure or a game of the senses, especially outside the context of the meal. This can happen at the grocery store, when reading a book with fruit and vegetables, playing with legumes and pasta, and being engaged in the kitchen and with cooking. That way, the child is growing more familiar with those foods, something that makes them less “scary” in their eyes, and at the same time increases the chances they’ll try them.
  3. Become the example. Instead of paying attention to and stressing about how much and what your child is eating, focus on your own meal, and show through your expressions how much you’re enjoying your food. During the preschool age, a parent’s dietary habits affect the child’s diet greatly.
  4. Keep meals a pleasant and UNIMPORTANT process. Don’t place value on how your child is eating, whether they’re eating or not isn’t what defines them as a good child. Create a pleasant environment without tension, pressure, and anxiety. Your obligations end at offering the food on the plate. Your child will decide how much and what they’re going to eat.
  5. Don’t offer alternatives. Knowing that they’ll always eat their favourite meals (which is also something that’ll offer you temporary satisfaction, avoiding grumbling) is a tactic that won’t help the situation in the long term. So, give your child the meal you’ve prepared, including something you know they’ll eat on the plate (like a favourite fruit).
Why isn’t my child eating
  1. Don’t use bribes in order to get your child to eat the foods you want. Especially a reward with a favourite food (usually a dessert) might seem to have some results initially, but that way you’ll only increase the value of the gift food, something that will end up restricting your child’s diet even further later.Διατηρήσετε ένα συγκεκριμένο πρόγραμμα σνακ και γευμάτων.
  2. Maintain a specific snack and meal schedule. Your child feels more security when they know what to expect. Additionally, fixed intervals between meals will lead to a greater appetite for the meal.
  3. Realize that your toddler’s appetite varies greatly from day to day, or from week to week, just like their preferences for specific foods. Sometimes, they’ll show a preference for food and other times they won’t, it’s important to understand that. Besides, it’s something that’s also found ιν us adults, and may be affected by many factors.
  4. Reduce your anxiety by evaluating your child’s weekly food intake and not their daily intake, or for every meal. Not all meals can be perfect, nor all days.
  5. Don’t pile up food on the plate. Some children may be “scared” of a large quantity of food. Start by offering small quantities and add more only when they ask for more.
  1. Be consistent and persistent. Changing your tactics and behaviour towards food might confuse your child even more.

In conclusion, it’s completely understandable to worry about a child who refuses certain foods and is eating selectively, but it’s generally normal behaviour. Remember that your role demands you to be an example of healthy food practices, always offering a variety of foods, being supportive, relaxed, and following a certain practice. The process to achieve having a child with an adequate diet might last weeks, months, or even years.  


  • DeCosta P. et al. (2017), Changing children’s eating behaviour – A review of experimental research, Appetite, 113: 327-357
  • Emmett P. M., Hays N. P. & Taylor C. M. (2018), Antecedents of picky eating behaviour in young children, Appetite, 130: 163 – 173 
  • Green R. J. et al (2015), How to improve eating behaviour during early childhood, PGHN, 18(1)
  • Leung A. Marchand V. & Sauve R. S. (2012), The “picky eater”: The toddler or preschooler who does not eat, Paediatric Child Health, 17(8): 455-457
  • Scaglioni S. et al. (2018), Factors influencing children’s eating behaviours,  Nutrients, 10:706
  • Walton K. et al. (2017), Time to re-think picky eating?: A relational approach to understanding picky eating, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14(62)

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