It can be frustrating, even alarming, when your normally hungry 2-year-old starts refusing to eat solid foods, preferring to drink milk or juice all day instead. But pediatricians agree that being a picky eater is a perfectly normal part of toddler development. If your 2-year-old does not sit still long enough to eat that bowl of cut-up banana or is refusing to even consider putting that piece of chicken into his mouth, there are a few things you can do to help him return to solid foods and meet his nutritional needs.
1 Give your toddler some control. Becoming more independent is a huge part of your 2-year-old’s development and this sense of wanting more control carries over to mealtimes, too. Letting your toddler decide when and what to eat alleviates frustration, but also encourages your child to begin listening to her internal hunger signals. Author and pediatrician Dr. Sears encourages parents to have a “nibble tray” available for toddlers. Fill a muffin tin, sectioned plate or other compartmentalized holder with slices of banana, halved grapes, whole-grain O-shaped cereal, hard-boiled egg wedges or small cubes of cheese. Keep the tray on a table where your on-the-go toddler can reach the food and graze when she is hungry.
2 Limit the milk and juice. You want your toddler to drink plenty of fluids, of course, but calorie-rich drinks, such as milk and juice, can make your toddler feel too full to eat solid food. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as mentioned on the WebMD website, juice should be limited to 6 ounces or less per day until the child is 6 years of age. Offer cups of water or juice diluted with water to make sure your toddler is quenching his thirst but not filling up on liquid calories.
3 Do not push the issue. It is aggravating when your toddler asks for a certain food and then pushes it away, saying, “No!”, but forcing your 2-year-old to eat when she is not hungry can lead to bad eating habits later in life. The American Academy of Family Physicians says parents should keep a calm head and not show disapproval when their child refuses to eat. Instead, to make sure your toddler is not going hungry or suffering from an inadequate diet, offer a nutritious snack a few hours later, when your she may be more interested in eating.
4 Set a good example. Toddlers love to mimic the adults in their lives and are open to suggestion, so set a good example by eating a well-balanced diet in front of your child. If your 2-year-old sees you eating an entire plate of broccoli and rice, she is much more likely to eat the greens and grains on her own plate. Dr. Sears recommends taking this one step further by planting a garden with your toddler and letting him see you harvest and prepare the veggies to spark a lifelong interest in nutritious food.
- Aim for a nutritionally balanced week instead of day since toddlers are notorious for their erratic eating habits, eating nothing but bananas one day, chicken the next, and nothing at all on the third. To avoid stressing out unduly over your toddler’s strange — but perfectly normal — eating behaviors, keep a food journal for your child and review it each week to see how your toddler’s nutrition balances out over the course of seven days instead of just one day.
- How much is too much? Pediatricians on WebMD say 2-year-olds need between 1,000 and 1,400 calories a day depending on their activity level. To determine how much food is enough — or too much — for your toddler’s tummy, use these two rules. The Fist Rule: Your toddler’s stomach is roughly the size of her fist. When you are doling out portions, put a toddler-fist-sized portion on your child’s plate and only offer refills after she has finished that first helping. An adequate serving of meat or other protein is the size of your toddler’s open palm. And the Tablespoon Rule: Serve a tablespoon per year of age (i.e., 2 tablespoons for your 2-year-old) for fruits, grains and vegetables.
- Avoid putting choking hazards into your toddler's "nibble tray." The American Academy of Pediatrics names the following as "unsafe foods for toddlers": hot dogs; hard candies; nuts; chunks of peanut butter; popcorn; raw carrots, celery and green beans; seeds; whole grapes and cherry tomatoes; and large chunks of any food such as meat, potatoes, or raw vegetables or fruits.
- Natural News: Consider Healthy Snack Ideas and Finger Foods for Your Toddler
- Eat Right: Feeding Vegetarian and Vegan Infants and Toddlers
- KidsHealth.org: Nutrition Through Variety
- University of Michigan Health System: How Parents Can Fight the Obesity Epidemic
- The Best Chance: Healthy Eating -- Introducing Solid Foods
- Healthy Children: Sample Daily Menu for a 2-Year-Old
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