This whole toddlers not eating dinner business has gotten WAY out of hand! If it's happening in your house, here are a few simple things to try to improve the situation.
- Space out meals and snacks to closer to 3 or even 4 hours.
- Offer only water between meals and snacks, rather than milk or juice.
- Include at least one "safe" food on their plate to ensure that there's something they will (likely) eat.
- Keep portions small and let them help themselves if they want.
- Let them decide what of their dinner to eat without commentary or coercing. (Really, no verbal gymnastics trying to get them to eat more of one thing than another!)
- Remember that milk is food (and it might be filling them up).
- Do not get up to prepare another meal! (And do not get the crackers/mac and cheese/pizza that you know they will eat!)
- Wait to offer a bedtime snack until at least 1 hour (if not longer) after the end of dinner.(Otherwise your toddler may realize he can refuse dinner and get food that he prefers right away.)
- You choose the bedtime snack—and let your child decide if they want to eat what's being offered. (In our house, this is called "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit!")
- Keep the bedtime snack boring so you don't incentivize it. (As in, this is not the time for your toddler's favorite fruit snacks!) Think fresh fruit, leftover rice or quinoa with butter, leftovers from dinner, string cheese, plain yogurt with fruit, cottage cheese with fruit, toast with nut butter. It can also help to think of snacks as mini meals, rather than "snacks". Two components/options works in our house.
Rinse, repeat, and stick with it. You have to get into a routine with this so that your little one knows what to expect, so it might take a few days to make this the new normal. And make sure that your partner is on the same page too!
If we want our kids to eat a wider variety of foods, including the foods that we make for dinner, we need to be do better to set them up for success.
If we want our kids to stop eating the same three foods over and over, it's our job to stop making them available. Even if we know they will eat them and we worry that they aren't eating enough. Even if our kids ask for them. Even if there is begging. It's okay to say "no"! And we absolutely cannot expect a two year old to approach eating rationally—they will always choose what tastes best and is easiest to eat—so we need to show them how it's done on a daily basis.
Remember: You are in charge of the food that winds up on your toddler's plate—no matter what your little one has to say about it!
P.S. #9 has been a game-changer in our house with the bedtime snack. I like that I can use it to fill in nutritional gaps, it gives my daughter a chance to eat a little something if she's still hungry, but it's not a free for all since I'm in charge of what the actual food is. I also don't worry that she's skipping dinner and waiting for the snack because she knows that the options usually aren't that exciting (and they are not "dessert"). I say: "Would you like applesauce or peanut butter for your snack?" Or: "For your snack you can either have a muffin leftover from dinner or string cheese." And she simply picks one or both. There's no other negotiation and while it took about 4 days to implement this, which was mostly about ME getting comfortable being in charge, it's now an awesome routine.
I hope this helps!