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The Battle with Toddlers & Food

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

It is known that toddlers have an increased desire to be independent within the environment they live in. Toddlers want independence and control because they are experiencing many changes, learning to walk, move, talk, and interact with peers. Toddlers also learn how to say NO, and saying no is their job. Toddlers go through a lot of changes in their early developmental stages; however, one thing they do not want to change is the food they eat every day. For them, eating the same thing every day is what they desire. Eating the same foods every day can lead a toddler to develop food neophobia: the fear of trying new foods (Klein, 2019). Toddlers that are typically developing will grow out of this phase when they have repeated positive exposures with mealtime and food! If the phase is still lasting out of toddlerhood, try the solutions listed below on "How to Address the Battle" or address concerns with the pediatrician to see if therapy may be beneficial.

If your child is not a toddler yet, start creating change now! Familiarity with change can decrease the chances of toddlers having worry or anxiousness when it comes to change. Change can include changing an ingredient in their smoothie recipe, offering a grape with all their strawberries, or adding a small amount of meat to the spaghetti sauce. If your child does not work well with change in general, make sure they are very small changes!

Toddlers & Food:

  • They are skeptical - if it is different from their typical routine, they will need time to explore the food and see how others interact with it

  • They are inconsistent - what they like one day, may be different another day

  • They are opinionated - they like to feel like they know what is best for them and what is not best (They like being in control!)

How to Address the Battle:

  • Have a routine for example: 3 meals a day with snacks in between

  • Plan a family menu to pick from (do not make it too large or too small)

  • Once at the table, let them eat how they want to eat it

  • Allow them to play and get messy with their food

  • Do not allow grazing ("snacking") throughout the day

  • Praise for good eating habits, ignore bad eating/behavior

  • Remove all distractions during mealtime (e.g., television, tablet, phone)

  • Only offer what the family is eating, do not cater special foods just for your toddler

  • Always has a preferred food on the table


Klein, M. D. (2019, November 8). Anxious eaters, anxious mealtimes: Practical and

compassionate strategies for mealtime peace. Archway Publishing.

Satter, E. (2000). Child of mine: Feeding with love and good sense. Bull Publishing Company.

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