This is one of the most common questions I get among moms who have children that generally accept a wide variety of food – why has my toddler suddenly stopped eating??
The first concern from moms is usually, “It’s because I…” And let me go ahead and stop you right there! YOU didn’t do anything wrong.
Especially if you’re saying they SUDDENLY (keyword) stopped eating. Or, SUDDENLY became selective with eating. That means they were likely accepting a wide variety of foods and a lot of that has to do with the hard work you’ve put in creating a supportive eating environment.
So why has my toddler suddenly stopped eating? Read on to find out!
In 2023 with my 5-month-old and 2-year-old, my husband and I decided to (spur of the moment) buy a house! So we moved. And the children went crazy.
My 2-year-old went from eating any meal we offered him to eating ONLY beef sticks, goldfish, and apples. For a concerning amount of time… I had the, “Uh oh what have I done” moment. Sure enough a few weeks later, once we settled in, arranged the furniture, got back into a routine, and returned to restful nights, he gradually slipped back into his “accepting most foods” practice.
Change plays a huge role in what your children eat, how much they eat, and maybe even whether or not they eat at all.
Another time, my 9-month-old had been accepting most every food I offered – fish, dairy, crackers, fruit, vegetables, etc. Then suddenly, she started squeezing every food item I offered her like the Hulk and throwing it all on the floor… This is common practice for infants to do when they’re done with their meal or if they don’t like certain foods. It shouldn’t happen every time you offer your child food.
At the time, she also happened to have many loose stools. Could she be sick? No, it turns out she had a dairy AND gluten sensitivity.
As I slowly started to cut back on those food groups and offered them in micro-doses on alternating days, she suddenly got her appetite back. She did continue to squeeze the heck out of some foods, but I suppose that is the STRONG woman personality emerging in her!
On that note, I have a post coming soon about micro-dosing for food sensitivities. In the meantime, it may be something to be aware of and can certainly contribute to a decreased appetite.
The point is, if your child suddenly starts refusing the food they usually accept, there’s probably a good reason. Let’s explore a few more reasons why.
Here are 7 Reasons Your Toddler May Not Be Eating:
- They are sick or are recovering from an illness
- It may take a few days to a full week to regain appetitive after being sick. Keep a close eye out for this!
- They have experienced a big life change
- Moving, travel, new siblings, changes in the family dynamic like mom returning to work or grandparents moving in, and saying goodbye to paci, are a few examples.
- They are not getting enough sleep.
- Lack of sleep may interfere with appetite, mood, and behavior
- Sleep deprivation may cause hormone imbalance, including an increase in the hunger hormone (grehlin) and a decrease in the fullness hormone (leptin)
- They have had a recent change in routine
- Similar to a big life change, but this might be more subtle, making it more challenging to identify
- This could be staying at home more or less, dropping a nap, a later bedtime, earlier wake time, more TV time, more time with grandparents, etc.)
- You have changed something about the food you offer.
- Offering new foods 3-5 times per week is totally normal and acceptable, however, anything more than that might overwhelm your toddler and make them more resistant to eating
- They have an unknown food sensitivity or intolerance (this may cause frequent upset stomach)
- They are experiencing big feelings and protesting food is one way they feel empowered
If you’re reading through these questions thinking “Yes, maybe, probably, yes!” That might explain why your toddler has suddenly stopped eating. Your next step is to take your suspicion and follow up. For example, if you suspect food sensitivity you should address this with your healthcare provider and possibly seek a food allergist referral.
If your kiddo is sick or recovering from illness, be sure to notify your child’s healthcare provider and in the meantime, you can follow up with sick day nutrition. This blog post by Feeding Littles may help you with that!
What Should I Do When My Toddler Refuses to Eat?
Regardless of the reason, my recommendation for you as the parent is to be patient with your toddler and continue to offer them a wide variety of foods (fruit, vegetables, legumes, dairy, meat, poultry, etc.) while also offering them comfort foods (the foods that they accept). No matter what this looks like.
The most important thing for you to do is keep your child fed! Meet them where they’re at.
On that note, if your toddler is refusing to eat their comfort foods for 24 hours or greater, contact their healthcare provider as soon as possible. Focus on fluids in the meantime and don’t hesitate to offer Pedialyte or low-calorie Gatorade. I like to store Pedialyte Electrolyte Powder Packets (from Amazon) in my pantry at all times!
A great rule of thumb is to offer carbs, fat, and protein at each meal. This may look like: macaroni (carbs + fat), with shredded chicken (protein) and orange slices, or something more like 2 slices of cheese (fat + protein) and a handful of goldfish (carbs).
During these times it’s more important to be gracious and gentle with your children than it is to force them to eat quinoa and broccoli. This is one of the reasons I recommend multivitamins for children. It can help fill essential nutritional gaps while little ones are learning how to be intuitive eaters!
If you’re interested in starting your child on a kids multivitamin, check out this post where I share my Top 5 Kids Multivitamins in 2023.
It may be a few days or a few weeks before your child returns to their normal eating patterns. You know your child best and you know when something is just not right. Always speak with your child’s healthcare provider when you’re worried and get that second opinion!
I hope your kiddo starts eating again soon and in the meantime, hang in there! You are doing great!
Written by, Sheridan Glaske, MS, RDN, LD