Dealing with toddler food strikes - Tips for parents

Dealing with toddler food strikes - Tips for parents

Keep reading to find out more about toddler food strikes and how to deal with them...

Here’s a scenario many of you will be familiar with.

Your child, before she was a year old, was a wonderful eater. She would try anything you offered her and genuinely enjoyed her food.

But then she turned 1 and it’s like her ‘food button’ was switched off! Mealtimes are now a battle of wills between you and your little one.

She either throws most of the food on the floor, the walls or on you. Or she purses her little mouth, turns up her cute little nose, shakes her head and refuses to eat — at all!

When this happens, you know you’re witnessing a toddler food strike! You start to agonise over food preparation and approach meal times with a sinking heart, knowing that it’s going to be a battle that you are bound to lose.

toddler food strikes

Toddler food strikes can cause mums excessive stress and they may even start second-guessing their parenting skills

You wonder what has happened to your former food champion and what you’re doing wrong.

Parents, rest assured that you’re not doing anything wrong. Toddler food strikes are quite normal and are actually to be expected during this stage of your child’s development.

Why toddler food strikes happen

Starting from around the time they turn 1 and lasting till they are about 5 years old, a child’s rate of growth slows down dramatically in comparison to his first year of life. Given this, a drop in your child’s appetite is totally to be expected during this stage of development.

toddler food strikes

When kids turn 1, their appetite decreases because their physical development slows down.

Look at it this way.

In their first year, kids may gain up to 7kg. But between 1 and 5 years of age, many children may gain only 1-2kg a year!

Kids in this age range can even go 3 or 4 months without any weight gain at all. So because they are not growing as fast, they need less calories, and to you, it seems their appetites are much poorer, or even non-existent (medical experts call this ‘physiological anorexia’).

During this age, how much kids choose to eat is controlled by the appetite center in their brains, meaning they only eat as much as they need for growth and energy. On certain days, they may choose to eat nothing at all!

In addition to these physiological factors, a growing desire for control, independence and an interest in his surroundings and environment may also cause your child to go on a food strike.

With younger toddlers, you might notice that food strikes, more often than not, coincide with teething and illness (I certainly noticed this with both my sons).

How to handle toddler food strikes

No pressure

Research has shown that kids who are forced or pressurised to eat are more likely to develop food-related problems.

Instead, let your toddler decide how much to eat and when to stop. This will help her self-regulate her food intake – a valuable skill for when she is older.

Once she indicates that she has had enough to eat, allow her to leave the table.

toddler food strikes

Let your child decide when she wants to stop eating.

It’s not about you!

Don’t take toddler food strikes personally. It’s certainly not a reflection on your parenting or cooking skills.

As explained above, it is just a perfectly normal part of a child’s development.

Provide healthy choices

While you can’t force your child to eat when she’s on a food strike, you can ensure that what’s on her plate is healthy and nutritious.

Even if she only takes a few bites, you know that those few bites are packed full of nourishment.

No distractions

Make each mealtime an enjoyable and low-key affair. By cutting out distractions such as the TV, you will help your child focus on her food.


toddler food strikes

Limit the number of snacks your child has through the day, and try to provide healthy options like fruit instead of ‘junk food.’

Minimise snacks

While it’s true that most kids love nibbling on snacks such as biscuits or sweets, too many of these could ruin her appetite for her main meals.

Try and limit snack time to once a day and even then, ensure it’s something like fruit so she won’t fill up on unnecessary calories before her main meal.

Small is good

A small portion size that is. Seeing a mountain of food may be overwhelming even for a ‘good’ eater.

Too much food piled sky-high on your toddler’s plate may even trigger a food strike. Instead, start with undersized portions and offer more if she wants.

This way, you also minimise wasting food… and we all know how bad we feel about throwing away our kid’s half-eaten (or untouched) plate of food.

Avoid making your child feel bad

Some parents, out of desperation, may say things like, “If you don’t eat your food it means you don’t love me,” or talk about starving kids who have nothing to eat. Do avoid doing this as it will only make your child hate mealtimes because she’ll start associating them with negative feelings.

Karin G. Reiter — who is a medical nutritionist, certified fitness instructor and lifestyle coach — advises parents against saying things such as:

– “Your sister/brother is eating- why aren’t you?”

– “You are so picky.”

– “I am not happy with you since you didn’t eat your dinner.”

– “”If you eat your veggies you can have dessert, watch TV.”

She cautions that such words will in turn create negativity towards food and meal times. Instead of food being a nourishing element in a child’s life, it will become a tool of manipulation.

Ultimately, do try not to worry about toddler food strikes as, more often than not, they are a phase and will pass.

Do remember that at times your child will be interested in her food and at other times she won’t even look at her plate, and this may coincide with growth spurts, teething, illness and so on.

While it may seem to you that your toddler hardly eats anything, rest assured that over the period of a few days or even weeks, she is probably consuming enough nutrients to thrive.

toddler food strikes

If your child is just starting to eat solids, consider baby-led weaning to minimise toddler food strikes and battles in the future.

According to experts, what is important is how much your child consumes in a week and not a day. As long as he is healthy and active, food strikes shouldn’t really be a cause for concern.

For parents just introducing their babies to the world of solid food, you may even want to consider baby-led weaning — which is essentially allowing your child to feed herself from the very start of weaning (around 6 months of age).

The advantage of this method is that by the time your child enters her ‘fussy’ stage with food, you can reduce your own stress levels by knowing that she will definitely feed herself when she is hungry, with what she needs to fulfill her growth needs.

However, having pointed out that toddler food strikes are usually a normal part of a child’s development, if you are in any way worried about your child’s growth or development, do seek a medical professional’s advice.

Parents, how do you handle toddler food strikes? Let us know by leaving a comment. 


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