Help! My Toddler Refuses To Eat

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My daughter has never had a particularly big appetite. Neither have I, so we had that in common. I understand eating small amounts of food several times a day and having what other people consider incredible portion control. What I don’t understand is my 3-year-old’s new penchant for fasting. Like, straight up choosing not to eat. It pains me, and I get the feeling that she knows this.

I’ve had lots of friends whose moms clearly didn’t do their job in the “develop a healthy relationship with food” department. I don’t want my daughter to be like them in that way so I, and my husband, have taken a relatively relaxed stance when it comes to eating. Things started out fantastically well when our girl was a baby. First solids were a joy, even after we discovered her intolerance for dairy, soy and eggs the hard way (i.e. hives and vomiting – enough to permanently scar any child).

Much to everyone’s elation, the intolerance proved to be temporary and by 20 months she was eating yogurt and scrambled eggs like a champ. Whenever we went out to eat, she’d willingly try anything on her plate, or on mine, of course. She became particularly fond of Japanese and Thai food, but Indian was her favorite. My husband and I sat there thinking we were raising an adventurous little eater with a charmingly refined palate.

But the self-congratulating ended around her third birthday. Negotiations to take three more bites of chicken turned into pleas (on my part) to at least start with one bite just to see if she likes it. The old go-tos like clementines, toast and fake chicken nuggets started failing me. And then, the unimaginable happened: our daughter told me she doesn’t like Crazy Bugs macaroni and cheese anymore.

The mac-n-cheese refusal was my first hint that there might be something more going on than the typical “toddler refuses to eat vegetables” scenario. At the risk of sounding just a touch paranoid, I think my daughter knows that she has the upper hand in this situation. When she tells me that she doesn’t like food anymore, there’s a certain look in her eyes that says, “I’m asserting my new-found personal power. I understand how badly you want me to eat and that is why I will refuse.” [tagbox tag=”baby food”]

As a woman who has vowed to improve my own assertiveness for years now, I want my daughter to feel empowered. But not now! Not over food! Now when refusing to do as I ask could have a direct impact on her health and well-being! Damn it, how did we get here?

So what’s a concerned mom to do? I’ve tried the old reverse psychology route, which sounds something like this:

ME: Lio, it’s time to eat.

LIO: I’m not going to eat, Mommy.

ME: Okay. That’s fine.

Total fail. She’ll simply continue on with whatever it was she was doing before I spoke. She’s not obstinate, per se, but she sure is stubborn. I’ll spend several minutes running through a list of reasonable meal or snack options, all of which she dismisses without pause. Finally, I felt forced to actually prepare whatever she asked for, even if it meant pancakes for dinner, just so she’d eat something. The second hint that I was unknowingly engaged in a power struggle of sorts came just a few days ago when Lio started refusing the very meal she had just requested.

I hear you out there, you moms who believe a child should eat what you put in front of them or don’t eat at all. I understand where you’re coming from. But how many meals would you allow your child to skip? I’ve always believed that kids are ruled by their bodies and will eat when they are hungry, but I’m really doubting that these days. And I’m worried.

A call to our pediatrician is the next step, but I’d also like to hear what you all have to say. I’ll thank you in advance for you motherly wisdom. And feel free to commiserate if you’re fighting a similar battle with your toddler. I have to believe I’m not the only one…

(Photo: Brocreative/Shutterstock)