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My toddler will only eat ______

By Christina F. Toscano

My toddler will only eat ______. Fill in the blank as you wish—macaroni and cheese, French fries, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, etc.

This is one of the most common complaints I hear from parents with young children. Parents would rather make a special meal every time the family eats than worry about their little one starving.

I’m here to tell you, as long as you are offering meals and snacks every few hours, healthy toddlers will NOT let themselves starve. Eventually, your toddlers WILL eat. The most helpful thing you can do is not push them. In other words, don’t punish them, bribe them, or even praise them. Saying something as simple as “If you eat your vegetables, you can have dessert.” or “Wow! Great job eating your carrots!” can do more harm than good when it comes to encouraging your little one to eat a more balanced diet.

Your responsibility is to decide what, where, and when the family eats. In other words, sit down as a family at meal times and serve nutritious foods that you enjoy. Do not make a special meal for your children. Instead, offer them the same foods you have for the whole family. You may have to cut the food for them in such a way as to avoid choking hazards.

The toddler’s responsibility is to decide how much to eat, and whether to eat anything at all. When the meal is served, allow them to decide how much of each food item they would like. Maybe one day they will decide they only want the mashed potatoes or the bread that is served with the meal. That is OK. Do not comment on it. Instead, enjoy your balanced meal. They will notice. Eventually, they will work up the courage to put a new food in their mouths. They may spit it out, but that is their way of experimenting. Do not comment on it. Again, just enjoy your food. Eventually, they will become more comfortable and even enjoy new foods. If your child decides not to eat, that is alright too. Serve planned snacks between meals. Toddlers have small stomachs and need to eat more often in order to meet their energy requirements. In this way, if they choose not to eat a meal, you know that they will be offered food again in just a couple of hours.

Feeding problems develop when you try to influence your child’s responsibility. Stick to your guns. Fight the temptation to cook your little one something special. It can be tough, but just remember that you are establishing feeding habits that will carry your child through life.

This topic has been studied in depth by Ellyn Satter who is a registered dietitian and psychotherapist. For more information, read one of her books or visit her online at: stages

Book suggestion: “Child of Mine” by Ellyn Satter

Cristina is a Nutrition Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program’s Parent Toddler Nutrition Program. She can be reached at


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