Tame Your Toddler’s Mealtimes Battles

Meal time with a toddler can be a bit of a challenge. Not only are they known for being fussy eaters, feeding them is messy and exhausting. At this stage, children are learning to expand their diet and slowly incorporate all the foods that their parents and family enjoy. But for some parents, every meal time is a battle.

Toddler Appetite ups and downs: how to handle Meal Time

  • If your toddler is eating very little, you could try reducing the amount of food you put on her plate. It’s normal for toddlers to need only small servings at mealtimes.

  • Space meals 2-3 hours apart with nothing but water in between for optimal appetite. Count from the start of one meal to the next, including snacks. Serve your toddler one food that is preferred (one you know they will eat) at each meal time.

  • Expose him regularly to new or refused foods by at least having him tolerate them on his plate.

  • Avoid trying to force your toddler to finish everything on the plate, because this can make meal time stressful. Instead, praise your toddler for trying a spoonful or eating x number of spoonfuls if that’s all he wants. At regular times between meals, you can offer your child healthy snacks like fruit or vegetable sticks. This should keep her going if she’s eating only small amounts at main meals.

  •  As long as you offer healthy food, try not to worry if your child doesn’t eat very much sometimes. Your child won’t starve.

  • Toddlers are actually very good at judging how much food they need at each meal time.

  • It can help to judge your toddler’s appetite over a week, rather than over a single day. It’s OK if he eats less today – he might be hungrier tomorrow.


  • If your toddler is healthy and has enough energy to play, learn and explore, he’s probably eating enough.


  • In some cases, a child’s appetite might be affected by a health issue. If your child consistently refuses food or you’re concerned about your child’s growth or overall nutrition, check with your child’s pediatrician who may refer you to a pediatric dietician.

Tips to Introduce Your Toddler to New Foods at Meal Time

  • Serve your toddler the same foods as the rest of the family at each meal time. This way your toddler will get the nutritional benefits of a wide range of foods, and accept new tastes and textures as ‘normal’.

  • Offer new foods with foods that your toddler already knows and likes. It helps to keep offering new foods. It can take 10-15 tries for children to accept and enjoy new foods.

  • If your toddler refuses something, offer it again in a week or so. You may find that your toddler might gobble it up and even ask for more – a toddler’s interest in food can fluctuate wildly. Offer a variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups at each family meal.

  • Go for variety yourself – show your toddler that you’re willing to try new foods and that you enjoy them too. Healthy family food and an eating environment that encourages a positive attitude to healthy food make a great start for your toddler.

  • You might think your toddler is fussy and will eat only one or two particular foods. But sometimes toddlers will try new foods if you just keep trying. If you assume your toddler will like new foods, you might find a whole new world of discovery opens up for both of you!

Create a Positive Eating Environment

  • Make meal times a happy, regular and social family occasion – sit together to eat with your toddler whenever possible. 

  • Avoid using screens to keep your toddler engrossed while you feed them. Instead encourage them to feed themselves by making the food bite-sized and easy for them to pick up and engage them with conversation, tell them a story, or describe what’s happening outside the window.

  • Use a highchair or toddler seat with straps whenever you can, it will save you a lot of needless aggravation.  Many toddlers don’t have the attention span until after age 3 and will just flee at a moment’s notice.

  • Show your toddler how much you enjoy eating the food you’ve prepared.

  • Get your toddler involved in helping to prepare and cook family meals – it can help them view the food in a more positive way and make them more likely to try it.

  • Offer new foods when you and your toddler are relaxed and she isn’t too tired or distracted by other things.

  • Set a time limit of about 20 minutes for a meal. If your toddler hasn’t eaten the food, take it away and don’t offer an alternative snack or meal. You don’t want to spend the whole day trying to get your child to eat.

  • Avoid punishing your toddler for refusing to try new foods. Tasting new foods should not be a negative thing.

  • Avoid bribing your toddler with treats just so he’ll eat some healthy food. This can make your child more interested in treats than healthy food and sends the message that eating healthy food is a chore.

Read “The Strongest Muslim Families Have These 5 Things In Common.

Following Your Toddler’s Lead at Meal Time

  • Let your toddler touch, lick and play with food, and allow for some mess as she learns to eat.

  • If your toddler loses interest or seems tired, cranky or unwell, take the food away.

  • Once you’ve found something your toddler actually eats, it can be tempting to keep on serving it up. But your toddler needs to eat a wide variety of foods to get all the nutrients necessary for growth and development. So it’s important to keep offering her lots of different foods.


A toddler’s appetite varies constantly because of growth spurts and variations in activity.

Because toddlers are so interested in the world around them, they have short attention spans when it comes to food.

It can help to think of it this way: you provide healthy food options for your child, and your child decides how much food he’ll eat – or not eat.

Toddlers want to push boundaries and show how independent they can be.

Liking a food one day and refusing it the next is common toddler behavior. It’s one of the ways that toddlers show how independent they are.

Toddlers have very small stomachs.

Toddlers aren’t growing as fast as babies, so they need less food.

Does your child have sensory issues?

There is a difference between a child who is a picky eater and does not like the ‘look’ or ‘taste’ of certain foods, and a child with sensory food sensitivities.

These children have a sensitivity to textures and often can only handle one texture at a time, such as smooth or pureed foods. In such instances, children may be able to drink a smoothie but will gag if offered anything solid or firm to chew. This is one of the most common issues associated with sensory eating.

Parents of children who exhibit such symptoms will be working closely with a pediatric dietitian or occupational therapist who will provide a customized eating plan and therapeutic exercises to help them develop their sensory system.

For such children, putting food in their mouth can cause them physical or mental pain, and so they often choose not to eat at all. Any recommendations that these children must try at least one bite of food, will not work for those with sensory eating issues.

Instead, therapists recommend using sensory bins to encourage children to begin to try a wider variety of foods. These bins are great for any child, picky eater or not. But it can be incredibly useful as it relates to the tactile sense. Therapists have remarked that children who regularly play with a variety of sensory bins started to eat a wide variety of foods after months of weekly therapy.

To learn more about food-related sensory issues, click here.


Try introducing Rasul’Allah’s (pbuh) favorite foods to your toddler:

Barley, Dates, Figs, Grapes, Honey, Melon, Milk, Mushrooms, and Pomegranate