Child Won’t Eat Favorite Foods

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Get help for when your child suddenly won’t eat favorite foods. If your toddler or child is refusing to eat, get answers below.

child refusing to eat a favorite food

There can be many reasons a child will suddenly refuse to eat certain foods–even foods that yesterday were an absolute favorite.

This is especially true in the toddler years.

A sudden dislike for a favorite food can be disconcerting. Toddlers tend to find a favorite food and cling to that day after day.

While the “children” of Israel soon got tired of manna, I am guessing the actual children in Israel were a bit more patient about having the same thing for every single meal (have you ever done that? Even if it is a food I really like, I am soon tired of it).

Brayden ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every day for the better part of two years. Wow. 

On Becoming Pre-toddlerwise talks about reasons and what to do about it. The first bit of advice is to simply not worry.

“Our first response is to tell you not to worry about it”.

(page 64)

While food is something we mothers tend to stress over for eternity, try to not let this get to you.

So your child always wants to eat cheese and suddenly doesn’t today. Fine. No big deal.

Check to See if the Child is Sick

While it is wise to not stress over one meal of different eating, it is also wise to rule out anything concerning.

My first response in this situation is to evaluate to see if the child is sick.

If the child is not sick, then I do not worry.

If the child is sick, I decide if this is a time to call the doctor or if it is just a normal sickness that comes along and ruins appetites. 

Reasons to Be Concerned

I guess the ability of a child to eat a food for what seems like forever makes it a bit more alarming when he suddenly decides he doesn’t like peanut butter and jelly one day.

However, keep in mind that a child–especially a toddler–does not need any reason to decide he doesn’t like a food that day.

And hey, we adults sometimes feel that way, too.

There are times to be concerned, though. Here are the common reasons for concern (page 64):

  • Nutrition Issue
  • Submission Issue
  • Appetite Issue
  • Snacking Issue
  • Parent Issue

Nutrition Issue

If your child is refusing a food and your primary concern over it is nutrition, you can easily work around that by feeding the child the food mixed with other foods.

Smoothies are a great way to get foods into your child. There are breads, cookies, omelets…lots of ways to sneak nutrition into a child.

You can also find other foods that offer the same nutritional value if possible. 

When McKenna had an absolute hate for milk, to me the concern was a nutrition issue.

I looked into milk substitutions to feed her. I also mixed some milk into other foods she ate (like oatmeal). 

>>>Read: What To Do When Your Child Hates Milk: Adding Dairy to the Diet

Submission Issue

Sometimes children are just trying to take a stand and don’t want to do what Mommy or Daddy says.

Testing the boundaries.

You will know this is your issue if your child is doing it at other times of the day. 

You really don’t want food or mealtime to turn into a battleground. If food refusal is a submission issue, then you can work on submission at other times of the day in order to avoid turning mealtime into a fight for dominance.

>>>Read: How Too Many Freedoms Leads to Disobedience

Appetite Issue

Some days, children just don’t feel like eating a certain food. No biggie. If you are concerned about a nutrient getting into your child, see the “Nutrition” section above.

Also keep in mind that nutrition is about averages, so if your child ate a lot of foods rich in Vitamin A yesterday, her lack of interest in carrots today isn’t going to kill her eyesight. 

>>>Read: How To Make Sure You Are “Feeding the Rainbow”

Sometimes it might be that your child is getting in touch with her days of Moses self and just wants to eat the same thing every day, while you want her to try new things. Again, if is nutrition, see nutrition above. 

What I do if a food is preferred is reach a compromise. My children are hooked on yogurt for breakfast and if I try to provide breakfast without yogurt, they are not happy. Most days, I am happy for yogurt to be included. Yogurt is good for you. I like knowing exactly what to provide each morning. 

Sometimes, however, we run out. And sometimes, I make a breakfast that does not include yogurt with it.

On days we run out, we obviously are just out and they eat something else. On other days, I have no problem with them adding yogurt on the side of what I have made.

Now, most foods will have some side effect of eating a lot of it, so be sure you are aware of the possible side effects so you can watch for them. Lots of dairy can lead to constipation. Lots of orange vegetables can lead to orange-tinted skin. Be aware.

>>>Read: Why Your Baby Has Orange Skin

Snacking Issue

One note, you do want to make sure you haven’t given a snack at a wrong time to ruin the appetite for the meal or a too large of snack, etc. Do be mindful of your snacks if refusal of food becomes common and turns into a habit.

If your child is getting full off of snacks, then she won’t be hungry enough to be willing to try new foods and often even to eat old favorite foods.

Your child can also then become more picky and care more about little things like texture.

Along with snacks, you want to be aware of drinks that can needlessly fill your child up. One of these is juice. You might find your child is getting too much juice or needs to cut juice all together.

If your child doesn’t need snack time, you can cut it out of the daily routine. If your child really does need a snack each day, try feeding small portions so your little one is still hungry for meals.

You can also be smart about what you offer for snacks. If you feel like your child needs SOMETHING for a snack in the day, but you also find the snack interferes with hunger at the next meal, pick fruits and vegetables for snack instead of crackers or goldfish.

I would rather my child get more full off of healthy foods than foods with little nutritional value.

>>>Read: Appetite vs. Hunger When it Comes to Kids

Parent Issue

Are you being stubborn about this? Are you insisting your child like a food he doesn’t have to like? Are you trying to have too much control?

Brayden likes just about anything we feed him, but he does not like corn.

No big deal! I know that he eats lots of nutritious food. I know that he eats literally every other vegetable we eat.

I think everyone is entitled to dislike foods. You don’t have to like everything out there. I can’t eat lima beans. Just can’t. 

Every so often, Brayden takes a bite of corn to see if his tastes have changed. They haven’t yet. He takes his one bite without complaint. He knows it won’t kill him and he knows we won’t force a ton of it down his throat. 

Be sure you don’t let your pride get in the way of logic when it comes to mealtimes.

If your child does not like broccoli but will eat other foods without complaint, don’t let broccoli become an issue.

Other Common Causes for Refusing Favorite Foods

There are other reasons for refusing favorite foods that aren’t a cause of concern. You might not be able to do anything or might just need to tweak a little bit to get things back on track.

Taste Buds Change

We all want to avoid picky eating, but somtimes kids tastes just change.

Child Holds Out for Dessert

Your child might hold out for dessert rather than eat dinner. Your child might like the foods just fine. Maybe she loves cauliflower or strawberries, but she isn’t worried about eating dinner because dessert is to follow.

If your little one loves sweets, you might need to have a requirement that certain amounts of dinner are eaten or there will be no dessert. I tell my children that dessert and treats are not a requirement and is unnecessary for survival.

Hunger Changes

As toddlers move from babyhood and into toddlerhood, they do not eat as much. Toddlers grow much slower than babies. So it might just be that your kiddo needs the total amount of food offered to be less.

Try smaller portion-sizes and see if that helps your toddler to eat more food.

Illustration

Pre-toddlerwise gives an illustration of a time a mom knew she needed to take a stand involving bananas. It reminded me of a story from our life with McKenna and bananas.

Last spring, we went on a family vacation to Zion National Park in Southern Utah. Our first morning, we were eating breakfast in preparation for a morning full of hiking. McKenna wanted to just eat yogurt and was ignoring her banana. 

This was a moment when I would have let the issue go. I wanted calories in her to sustain her through our morning. Because of the context of the situation, I would have let her eat anything she wanted to eat so she would be full.

My husband, however, took a stand.

He told her she could not have more yogurt until she ate her banana. What then followed was the most stubborn 20 minutes of McKenna’s life. I kept shooting my husband a look that clearly told him I was not happy with him choosing this moment to draw a line in the sand over a banana. 

In the end, she ate her banana and the next morning, she ate it without a fight, so it all ended well. 

There are times to put your foot down and other times it is better to not worry about it.

Conclusion

As you encounter a refusal of food, consider why the child might be refusing, what context you are in and what you face that day, and then decide what to do about it.

Sometimes, you won’t do anything. Sometimes, you will sneak that nutrient in other ways. Other times it might be time to establish some boundaries with meals.

While you won’t make it through parenthood with a perfect record, you will get better and better at assessing the situation and reacting appropriately.

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Child won't eat favorite foods

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