Refusal of Favorite Foods


There can be many reasons a child will suddenly refuse to eat certain foods–even foods that yesterday were an absolute favorite. On Becoming Pre-toddlerwise talks about reasons and what to do about it.


“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.


However, I insert my honest first-response in this situation. I 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. 


A sudden dislike for a favorite food can be disconcerting. While the “children” of Israel soon got tire 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. 


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. 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. Here are the common reasons for concern (page 64):

  • Nutrition Issue
  • Submission Issue
  • Appetite 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). 


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 day. 


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


Appetite Issue

Some days, children just don’t feel like eating a 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 eye sight. 


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.

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.


Parent Issue

Are you being stubborn about this? Are you insisting your child like a food he doesn’t have to like? 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 meal times.



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. 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. 



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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