5 Ways to Handle a Toddler on Hunger Strike - Tiny Reads | Tiny Reads
Fussy eater

5 Ways to Handle a Toddler on Hunger Strike

There are few things as frustrating as your baby not eating, especially when they haven’t formed the ability to tell you why they aren’t interested in eating.  This often leads parents down the Google wormhole searching things like “Why won’t my baby eat” and “What to do if my baby refuses to eat for days.”

Step away from the 210th result on the 10th page of Google and breath.  It’s important to remember that being selective about foods is typical in children, especially toddlers, as they are learning to exert their independence and newfound ability to control what goes on around them.

Why is my baby not eating?

A few reasons that kids refuse to eat include

  • Teething
  • Feeling rushed at mealtime
  • Constipation or Anemia
  • They were recently disciplined and are still upset

5 Ways to Get your Baby to Eat Again

Forcing your child to eat or offering a reward in exchange for eating a meal are tempting options, however, it can end in a baby that is fussy consistently during mealtime. [1].  Next time your baby is refusing to eat, try these 5 strategies to get your baby to eat again: 

1. Continue to offer different types of foods and textures, even if it’s something they don’t “like.”  First, babies change what they “like” almost daily.  Remember: they chew on magazines and sometimes try to put rocks in their mouths.  Research shows that continuing to offer a wide range of flavors and textures improves the likelihood that your child will eat consistently, and better, down the road [2][3].


2. Eat as a family: Kids love copying people, and eating with your child is a great way to model good eating behaviors. As your tiny human gets older, family meals become an important forum for emotional check-ins.


3. Don’t rush them and let them explore: Developing eating-related motor skills takes time and practice! Sensory exploration can help tiny humans get used to new tastes, textures, and smells. That said, it’s important not to drag meals out for too long. Some literature suggests limiting toddler meal times to 20 minutes and removing all the food from the table after that [1].


4. Cheer them on: Be your tiny human’s biggest cheerleader at the dinner table. A little praise goes a long way.


5. Develop a routine: Structured meal times, and eating as a family are associated with greater food enjoyment, and fewer fussy eating behaviors in toddlers and infants [4].


When To Get Help

If your child refuses food for more than a couple of days or shows signs of constipation or anemia, consult your pediatrician. Most tiny human hunger strikes pass but occasionally there’s a more serious reason for your child’s wacky mealtime behavior. 


Toddler eating phases can be weird and worrying, but we’re here to help at Raised Real.



Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment in any manner. Always ask your pediatrician or other qualified health provider any questions you have regarding any medical conditions.


[1]  The ‘picky eater’: The toddler or preschooler who does not eat Alexander KC Leung, Valerie Marchand, Reginald S Sauve, Canadian Pediatric Society, Nutrition and Gastroenterology Committee. Paediatr Child Health. 2012 Oct; 17 (8): 455-457. Paediatr Child Health. 2012 Oct; 17 (8): 458-460.

[2] Long-term consequences of early fruit and vegetable feeding practices in the United Kingdom. Coulthard H, Harris G, Emmett P. Public Health Nutr. 2010 Dec;13(12):2044-51. doi: 10.1017/S1368980010000790. Epub 2010 Jun 8.

[3] The effect of age of introduction to lumpy solids on foods eaten and reported feeding difficulties at 6 and 15 months. Northstone K, Emmett P, Nethersole F; ALSPAC Study Team. Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2001 Feb;14(1):43-54.

[4]  The relation between family meals and health of infants and toddlers: A review. Verhage CL, Gillebaart M, van der Veek SMC, Vereijken CMJL. Appetite. 2018 Aug 1;127:97-109. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.04.010. Epub 2018 Apr 11. Review.

[5] The importance of mealtime structure for reducing child food fussiness. Powell F, Farrow C, Meyer C, Haycraft E. Matern Child Nutr. 2017 Apr;13(2). doi: 10.1111/mcn.12296. Epub 2016 Apr 8.