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Toddler Won't Eat: Why Your Child Refuses To Eat Anything

Super Administrator | Feb 10, 2023

As parents, we all want our children to grow up healthy and strong. One of the most important factors in achieving this is ensuring they get the proper nutrition. However, many parents struggle with getting their toddlers to eat a varied and balanced diet. It can be incredibly challenging when your child refuses to eat anything at all. In this article, our specialized nutrition coach will explore some of the reasons why this may be happening and what steps you can take to encourage your toddler to eat a healthy and varied diet.

Medical Reasons Why a Toddler Won't Eat

There are several medical reasons why a toddler doesn't want to eat. An underlying gastrointestinal issue, such as acid reflux or constipation, is one of the most common. These conditions can cause discomfort or pain when eating, leading to a decreased appetite. Another potential medical cause is a food allergy or sensitivity, which can cause symptoms such as itching, hives, and vomiting after eating certain foods. 

In some cases, a toddler may also have a medical condition that affects their sense of taste or smell, making food less appealing. Additionally, certain medications can cause a loss of appetite as a side effect. If your toddler has a chronic condition or is taking medication, you must speak with your pediatrician to rule out any potential medical causes for their lack of appetite.

Sensory Processing Issues Could Be the Problem

My toddler won't eat anything! What do I do?

Well, sensory issues can also be a reason why a toddler doesn't want to eat. These issues can make certain textures, tastes, or smells of food unappealing to them. Some children may strongly prefer certain textures, such as crunchy or smooth, and may refuse to eat foods with a different texture. Furthermore, some kids may also have an aversion to certain tastes, such as spicy or sour. Smells can also be an issue, as certain smells can make a child refuse to eat anything. Children with sensory issues may also be more sensitive to temperature and only want to eat food that is either very hot or very cold. Additionally, children with sensory issues may be more prone to gagging or choking when trying new foods or textures. 

Understanding the child's sensory issues and working with a professional nutrition coach to help them overcome their sensory aversions can help improve their appetite and willingness to try new foods.

The Toddler Won't Eat Due to Oral-Motor Issues

Oral-motor skill issues can also be a reason why a toddler doesn't want to eat. These issues involve difficulties with the muscles and movements used for eating and drinking, such as chewing, swallowing, and sucking. 

Children with oral-motor skill issues may have difficulty biting and chewing food, making eating uncomfortable or difficult. They may also have trouble swallowing, leading to gagging or choking. Some children may have difficulty coordinating the muscles used for eating, which can make eating slow and tedious. These children may also have lip and tongue movement issues, which can affect speech and feeding. Children with oral-motor skill issues may also have difficulty with drinking, which can lead to dehydration. 

Identifying and addressing oral-motor skill issues with the help of a speech or occupational therapist can help improve the child's ability to eat and drink and increase their appetite.

The Child May Be Going Through the Picky Eating Phase

Could it be that my toddler won't eat anything because they're a picky eater? – That might just be it.

Picky eating is a common phase many toddlers go through and can be a reason why a child refuses to eat anything. Basically, during this phase, children tend to be more selective about what they will and will not eat. They may refuse to try new foods or stick to a limited number of favorite foods. This can be frustrating for parents as they try to ensure their child gets a balanced and nutritious diet. 

Picky eating is often a normal and temporary development phase as toddlers learn to assert their independence and control over their environment. However, it's important to remember that every child is different; some may take longer to outgrow this phase. It's also important not to force children to eat or restrict their food choices, as this can lead to a negative association with food and may make picky eating worse. Instead, parents can offer a variety of healthy foods, encourage children to try new things in a relaxed, pressure-free environment, and/or consult a nutrition coach for help.

A Toddler Won't Eat Because They're Anxious

Anxiety can manifest in many ways, including a reluctance to eat in young children. Toddlers may experience anxiety for various reasons, such as changes in their environment or routine, stress in the household, or separation from their primary caregivers. When a child is anxious, they may become easily distracted, fidgety, or have a decreased appetite. This can make mealtime difficult, as they may be less inclined to try new foods or may refuse to eat altogether. 

Additionally, anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as stomachaches or nausea, further decreasing a child's desire to eat. It's essential to address a toddler's anxiety and work to create a calm and nurturing environment, and be patient and understanding when it comes to mealtime. Encouraging a child to eat should be done in a positive and non-coercive manner. Consultation with a pediatrician or a child psychologist can help address the child's anxiety and facilitate the feeding process.

How to Encourage Positive Eating Habits

Encouraging positive eating habits in a toddler who refuses to eat can be challenging, but several strategies can be effective. One approach is to make mealtime a positive and enjoyable experience for the child. This can include setting a relaxed and calm atmosphere, engaging in conversation, and allowing the child to participate in meal preparation. Another strategy is to offer various healthy food options, including fruits, vegetables, and protein sources. It can be helpful to expose the child to a range of flavors and textures, as children may be more likely to try new foods if these are presented in an appealing way.

Remember to model healthy eating habits for the child and lead by example. Avoid using food as a reward or punishment, as this can lead to negative associations with eating. It is also important not to force the child to eat or make them feel guilty for not eating. Instead, allow the child to eat at their own pace and respect their hunger cues.

Pay attention to the child's individual preferences and try to cater to them. For example, if the child likes a particular shape of food, you may try cutting the food in that shape. Be patient and persistent, as it may take time for the child to develop healthy eating habits. If the child continues to refuse to eat despite these strategies, it may be helpful to consult a pediatrician or a dietitian for further guidance.

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Want more information and advice on how to get your toddler to eat better? Experts at I Help Moms are here to help you with the challenges of parenthood. Professional parenting guidance is just a video call or email away, so don't hesitate to get in touch.



We do not provide medical support on, so please consult your pediatrician.