How do I get my toddler to eat his main meal at night??

Megan - posted on 04/28/2010 ( 32 moms have responded )

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Hi, my son who is nearly 3 wont eat his main meal at night. I have tried things like bribing him with a bath or drink after he eats as they're things he loves. I have also cut out afternoon snacks hoping he will be hungry by dinner time. I try to cook things that I know he likes but yet he still has this determination not to even touch his dinner let alone atempt to eat any.
What do i do??? Should i just let him have whatever he want to have when he is hungry for it or do i stick to my plan of having a set dinner and its that or nothing?? Im not worried he isnt eating enough as he always has a big brekky and will graze all day if allowed but for some reasons tea time is just not working. Please help with any suggestions

thanks megs

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Jeanna - posted on 05/06/2010

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We have a small snack sometimes in the afternoon, but usually we don't. That way I know the kids are hungry. My kids are 13, 5, 4 & 2. If they don't eat at dinner, they don't eat. No grazing, playing, etc. I give them time and if they don't eat, dinner is over. I also am not a short-order cook. What I cook is what we eat. I don't think there has ever been a child that starved himself. When he/she gets hungry, they will eat. Especially the next morning at breakfast!! I also give my kids Juice Plus+ chewies so I know they are getting their nutrients from 17 raw fruits, vegetables and grains even if they don't eat much. If you want info about it go to gal4juiceplus.com. Good luck!!

Brenda - posted on 05/13/2010

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Toddlers and preschoolers don't eat well at night, they're tired. Not letting him have his afternoon snack isn't going to help that its just going to make him grumpier.

If you really want him to sit at the table for dinner, try giving him some special and quiet toys. If he was hungry, he'd eat.

Elizabeth - posted on 05/12/2010

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Both of my kids have been like this. They will eat a good breakfast and lunch and then a few snacks of fruit in between. Come dinner time (usually around 5:30) my little man will not touch a bite! My Mom told me not to worry because little ones will not starve themselves. Fix your healthy dinner and serve your child a plate. He will eat if he wants to. I have learned that dinnertime and food time in general is a battle that cannot be won by the parents. This is the time where the child will win. So do not fight. They have a good dinner and if they eat then they eat. If not, wrap it up and put it in the fridge for when they start asking for food.
When my daughter was 4, I had been cooking two separate dinners, one for her and one for my husband and I. One night after having dinner when my friend and her two daughters, I noticed that my daughter ate what was put in front of her!! It was food that, at home, was NOT eaten. I asked my friend how she managed to get my daughter to eat and she informed me that what she fixed was it. There was not anything else. She did not believe in separate dinners and that was that. I tried that at home the next night, and the next, and IT WORKED! So I now plan on everyone getting a something that I know that they enjoy and if my little man does not want to eat then I put it in the fridge for later that night.
You cannot force your child to eat but please just know that they WILL NOT starve themselves. Just have it available when they are hungry. Best of luck to you and I hope this helps.

Jeanna - posted on 05/06/2010

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Also, even if the kids aren't eating, they still sit with the family until everyone else if finished. That way we still have family time and they can't choose to go and play instead.

Rebecca - posted on 05/06/2010

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Children of this age are snackers. As long as he is eating healthy snacks i would'nt stress. My boy is the same so i make him 'cakes' which are really vegie muffins. Try zuchinni,carrot, apple and apricot muffins it sound awful but actually taste nice. Heaps of healthy recipes on net. Also try serving very small meals for tea. Like a sampler plate. Kids get overwhelmed with what we think are small serves but to them they are actually large. Just a few peas,carrotts, broccoli and a few small pieces of meat.spaghetti bolognaise is also good to increase there vegie intake with out them knowing it. Use the mince as a base and then add what every vegies are in season. Hope this helps.

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Rachel - posted on 08/01/2012

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my 2 years old son only eats breakfast and very littler lunch,but he wouldn't eat dinner. he doesn't eat snack, i don't know what to do

Sara - posted on 05/17/2010

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im sure some toddlers and preschoolers eat well at night.. my 2 year old daughter prefers to not eat breakfast, as well as my friends 2 year old daughter, they pig out all nite long tho :)

Carrie - posted on 05/09/2010

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I am a former preschool teacher and had a student who was an incredibly picky eater. When her mom took her to the doctor worries about her eatign habits, she was told that as long as she had a banana a day she should be getting enough to live. Talk to his doctor but I feel that ultimately, kids will eat when they are hungry. This is another way that a toddler will try to assert their control over the situation. I view it as it being up to me as the parent to say "This is it. Take it or leave it." The first few times they may scoff and not eat it. Stick to your guns - do not offer other choices. After awhile they'll realize you mean business. They are not going to starve themselves. If you do not mind him grazing all day then let him. Myself, I prefer to have set meal times (breakfast, mid morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner). Good luck!

Crystal - posted on 05/08/2010

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no snacks or milk my daughter is like this sometimes she doesnt get down from the table until she is done or i leave it there and she eats it when she is ready

Mari - posted on 05/08/2010

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I have to agree here with Jeanna. We have done the same things she mentioned or even some times whn my little guys throws a tantrum, he gets time out for 2 minutes and blive it or not he smartens up. He might have only two or three bites out of his meal but I know that he has something in his tummy until breakfast. And belive me when they are hungry they will as for a food. Don't worry too much, this stage will pass. Good luck.

Krystina - posted on 05/07/2010

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what i dont with my 2 year old who just stop eatting after i had my second was had the set meal times and i told him that i would leave it there for half an hour and after that it would be going in the bin and he would not getting anything esle.
i think he didnt eat for like 3-4 nights and then get the hint that i wasnt playing.

Sue - posted on 05/06/2010

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oh my god! do i have the same problem or what! it is so relieving to know that so many other mothers are having the same problem, my 4 year old will eat all day until i put her meal down to her, i've tried cutting out snacks in afternoon, bathing her and going through the routine that i started her on as a baby, which i must admit has faded, but she always has had the same meal time, i've tried sending her to bed without anything, making me feel awful! bribing her with nice things but unless its one of the very few things she eats and she has to be in the right mood too or she will just sit there and not touch a thing, its all or nothing with her and its usually nothing which is very frustrating when i am trying to give her a balanced diet, as a baby and moving onto solids she was fantastic she would eat all veg and meat even fish, but from then till now she has become incredibly picky and is able to eat banana's and milk and then not claim to be hungry, no bribe, punishment or threat of bed has any effect on her at all she is quit happy to go off to bed with nothing as she just plays happily in her room which is normal for her as she is my only child here,

Sarah - posted on 05/05/2010

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Make sure he isn't filling up on juice of milk, since you've already cut out the snacks. Then set the food on the table. Don't cook toddler goodies just to tempt him, kids need more them mac n' cheese and chicken nuggets. Cook real food, put it in front of him, and one day, he will eat. As long as the pediatrician doesn't say that he is underweight or anything, then he could easily be getting his calories earlier in the day and he'll pick up dinner at some point, just not today. No worries. My daughter grows like a weed and still hardly eats much at dinner. Breakfast is her meal. Pediatrician told me not to worry about it, she will eat when she is hungry, and not to try and override her natural hunger/eating cycle or she will easily end up obese.

SARA - posted on 05/05/2010

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I was an anorexic at nine and in part I think this was down to being controlled to tightly regarding what I should eat and when so my advice would be to let him be. My three year old does not ever want breakfast. I don't make her. But by the time she gets to her minder in the morning she happily tucks into bananna and toast.
I find that it is hard to make her sit down to a meal when it is just me and her (usual scenario) and that it is much easier when it is more of an event with others present. She happily eats a proper meal with proper table manners when there are others to make it more exciting at the table. And if i suggest a cafe- well, she'll do anything for that! So i tend to try and make sure we have about three good meals a week with others around where she learns to eat a proper meal with conversation and good manners and the rest of the time she has more control over the mealtime and if she doesn't want it I bite my tongue and put it in the waste bin. If she misses a meal i try not to worry and take an overview of what she eats in a day rather than what she easts at one meal.

Kathy - posted on 05/04/2010

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apparently, at that age it's normal for them to go through a very picky eater stage and sometimes an eating strike! my nieces who are ages 4 and 6 barely touch their dinner - a few bites of cucumber, a piece of buttered bread and maybe 1 or 2 bites of mashed potato and that's it.

Ann - posted on 05/03/2010

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I have to say that my 3 yr. old daughter is the exact same way, and it is so frustrating! Some time's I wish I still fed her baby food, lol...so at least i knew that she was getting everything that she needed that day....I really liked Cindy and Jennifer's post..so I think I'll try that myself and HOPE that it help's me....Good Luck

Jennifer - posted on 05/03/2010

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I love Cindy's tip! We've tried that, in a way, and it works. My almost 3 year old boy is exactly like yours, Megan: he eats a big breakfast (wakes up hungry from not eating much the night before) and grazes all day (fruit, yogurt, crackers) but has no appetite at dinner. He is also extremely picky (no meat, except a few types of chicken nuggets, no veggies except cucumber, etc.). But I did get him to sit at the table with us (not for the whole meal, but at least for a little while) by putting things he loves on the table (like fresh bread, or tortilla chips). He then decides for himself to join us at the table when he spies those foods... and then gets interested in the plate in front of him while he's there. He's also learned that if he eats his dinner, he'll get dessert, but most nights he just isn't that hungry to bother. We cut out afternoon snacks, and stopped all milk during the day (except in cereal), but his little motor just seems to work by filling up in the a.m. He's not a big kid, but he is healthy and strong. I fully believe in putting the food out there (even when he says he isn't hungry, since he sometimes eats anyway) and then whatever happens, happens. They know what they need. Good luck, and don't stress too much. :)

Cindy - posted on 05/01/2010

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OH OH OH OH!!! I have the BEST tip ever!!! I'm so excited to share this one! Make a great big meal, something totally yummy, set the table, and give him an empty plate! If he doesn't learn that night, to ask and eat, it might take a day or two, but this works!! REALLY! Your son will WANT to take part in dinner, according to his own independence. After all, independence should be nurtured and not fought with, but in a smart, parent still wins, kind of way ;)

And since he eats well during the day, there won't be any worries about him going hungry at night.

I hope this works as well for you as it did for me.

Always remember, patience, love and understanding.

Robin - posted on 05/01/2010

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I have a simliar problem my 22 month old daughter eat but she is real picky she will eat fruits and veggies. but there are some days when all she wants to eat is bananas other days it's milk and juice she does eat with the family. our doctor says that she is underweight and at 22 months she weights only 22 pounds and is 33 inches tall! Help! what can I do to get her to gain weight?

Bonnie - posted on 05/01/2010

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My son went through this when he was about 2yrs old (he's almost 4). I made dinner, put it on the table at the same time every night but he wouldn't eat anything.
Maybe try serving yourself a bigger plate/bowl & see if your son will share with you?
You could also try just not giving your son anything- make dinner as usual (enough for your son, just in case), get everyone to sit down & eat whenever/however is normal for your family, but just don't serve your son anything. The simple idea of everyone else eating & him not even having a plate/bowl might encourage him to sit down & eat.
Both of these helped with my son- if I sit down with my dinner & there’s nothing for him he gets his own plate out & asks me to get him some or he’ll just climb onto my lap & ask to share with me.
Just remember, unless it’s causing serious concerns for his health your son will be ok without dinner for a little while.
I hope this helps & good luck. :)

Lauren - posted on 04/30/2010

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Megan,
My son went thru the same thing, I tried the do it or else routine and it didnt work, tried cutting out snacks from 2pm, tried the i dont care and the you get nothing else routines too but nothing worked. I to am very family time at dinner so really was upset that it wasnt happening but then my husband suggested swapping lunch and dinner. He now gets last nights dinner for lunch the next day then has a sandwich and a yoghurt for tea. I am still disappointed that my hopes of eating together as a family isnt working the way I hoped but we atleast get him to sit and eat his "dinner" with us, he usually finishes first and goes and plays which leaves my hubby and I to finish our meals off which is also very nice...
This way he still gets all the goodies he should be and we dont have stress. I will re attempt dinner being dinner every now and then to see but I think he just isnt looking for a big meal before bed.

Clarice - posted on 04/30/2010

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Kids are going to be picky. I don't make a battle over meal times. Kids will eat when they are hungry. I talked to my pediatrician about my son who is 2 that he is very picky and won't eat when we eat. She told me what i told you just feed him when he's hungry.

Tesha - posted on 04/30/2010

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Hi Megan,
A year ago I heard a Pediatric Nutritionist speak on this very topic. She had some very helpful thoughts that might help you too. First of all, she said that current studies show that in a two week period of time, kids 5 and under have will get all the nutrition they need if given a variety of healthy choices at every meal. They do it naturally. Then she said something that really relieved me from the stress I was feeling about my daughter's eating habits. That is, it's my responsibility as a parent to 1 - give her plenty of healthy choices at each meal; 2 - to set a schedule for meals and stick to it; and 3 - to "set the stage" for meal time. And it's my child's responsibility to choose 1-what & 2- how much to eat of what I offer. I found an article about it here: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/childrens/edu/...
This addresses the “picky” eater issue and becoming a “short order cook” which I’m sure you don’t want to do – who has the time, seriously??? http://www.ucsfhealth.org/childrens/edu/...
This site also looks like it has other articles that may be helpful: http://nal.usda.gov/wicworks/Topics/todd...
NOW a year later, my daughter eats what is put in front of her or not. She doesn’t throw a fit about it, sometimes she asks for something else and if it’s reasonable I’ll relent, but I’m not a short order cook. Sometimes I just say this is what we are having, if you are hungry, you’d better eat it. She doesn’t like it, but she doesn’t fight me on it too much either.
With all my best wishes - Hang in there!

Lynsey - posted on 04/30/2010

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You have done the first and obvious thing to start off with and that is cutting our afternoon snacks which is a good start. I think eating all together at meal times is important but I also think that if he was really hungry then he would eat it, especially if it is something you know he usually enjoys. However, I would suggest putting the evening meal out as usual, including your childs plate and make sure he knows everything is out at the table. Then just sit down, dont chase him round because it may be just that he wants attention from you, and then just get on with eating your own meal but try and take your time with it. You may find that because you are at the table eating and he is not getting any attention, he may actually join you and start eating. If he does then praise him, but not too much as you dont want to take his attention away from eating his meal.

Candice - posted on 04/29/2010

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if he's eating well the rest of the day (good breakfast, lunch, snacks) he may just not be hungry. i have learned to trust my daughter's stomach (when she doesn't eat, there's a reason, if i force it, i usually find out she's ill...and end up covered in vomit). the rule in my house is if dinner isn't eaten, nothing else is. I keep her dinner plate accessible all evening. if she's hungry, she can have dinner. if it's something i know she just really doesnt' like (there are certain meals i consistently have no luck getting her to eat), then if she's hungry after, she can have a healthy replacement (yogurt, fortified cereal, something like that). i will not make a second supper.



also, make sure he's not drinking too much milk or juice during the day. that could be filling him up. there is a required amount of milk, but too much can keep them from eating solids, which have nutrients not found in milk.

Cara - posted on 04/28/2010

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My son is2 and on some nights he just won't eat dinner either! He has a big breakfast, and usually a good lunch as well. I think it's just a phase they go thru. I give him his dinner, and no other choices. I don't want to turn eating into a fight, and if he's hungry he'll eat. I have a friend who's daughter wouldn't eat lunch for 6 months, but is totally fine! Just keep offering it, and one day he will be interested again.

Megan - posted on 04/28/2010

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yer Jaxson would have mac'n'cheese all day every day and 2minute noodles also if i let him. Oh and bread and butter is another favourite - just more frustrating then anything, cause i go to the effort and he turns his nose up at it, but thats kids for you i guess lol

Sarah - posted on 04/28/2010

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My son is 2 and a half and I am having the same problem! It drives me nuts! He only eats a few different "meals"' like mac'n'cheese, noodles, spaggetti and hamburgers. He loves fruit and cookies. I am a true believer in bribery, but even that has not worked!

Caitlin - posted on 04/28/2010

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My daughter sometimes doesn't feel like eating, she knows that she gets only what is put in front of her. If she doesn't touch her meal, she doesn't get desert (usually fruit) and I never give her anything different. I know she loves spaghetti, just because she knows she gets slice of bread.. If I let her choose what to eat, it would be bread and fruit only. I figure if she's hungry, she'll eat what I put in front of her.

Megan - posted on 04/28/2010

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yes we always eat together - we really want it to be a family activity as my husband is away for brekky and lunch. So dinner is our time. I will try the leave it for half hour and dont stress about it. I have cut out snacks already so fingers crossed he will get the hint asap
thanks :)

Louise - posted on 04/28/2010

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Does he eat with you? If not try eatting dinner together to encourage him to join in with the family. If this does not work cut out the afternoon snacks and offer him his dinner if he will not eat it put it where he can reach it for half an hour and do not mention it.If he has not touched it after that time throw it away. Do not give him anything else to eat. The next day do the same, he should learn that it is dinner or nothing. If he does manage to eat something praise him and offer him something he likes as a pudding. Take the stress completly out of dinner time if he thinks you are stressing out he will not eat. Stay relaxed and have a "I don't care attitude" He will conform eventually.

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