5 Reasons Why Your 2 Year Old Won’t Eat
Every child goes through phases of not wanting to eat, and often there’s a good reason for it. I’ve put together a list of common reasons your 2 year old won’t eat when they seem otherwise well in themselves, and I’ve suggested some ways to get over this frustrating problem. I hate wasting food so I do my best to avoid it at all costs!
Reason 1 – Teething
While some children may have all of their teeth by the time they are 2 years old, the majority are still waiting for their second molars to come through. Teething has probably been a rocky ride for your child on and off since they were around 3 months old, but we’re talking about the bad boys right at the back of their baby set of teeth. These things are huge in relation to the size of your child’s mouth!
My son got his first molars around 8 months ago, and ever since then, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of his final 4 baby teeth. We’ve seen the pain hit him in waves. He can go a whole month without feeling anything, and then have a really bad week – rosy cheeks, drooling constantly, waking in the night… and he’s only just cut his first one!
The pain of toothache is enough to put anybody off their food. If you suspect teething is to blame for your 2 year old not eating, then try offering easily digested food which requires little chewing. Things like porridge, scrambled egg, chicken leg meat, mash potato, soup are all gentle on your gnashers when you’re in pain. You can also time your doses of painkillers to coincide with mealtimes, so that the edge is taken off the pain for toddler to eat. For best effect, offer paracetamol / acetaminophen 30 minutes before a meal (ibuprofen is not recommended since it should not be taken on an empty stomach).
Reason 2 – Constipation
If you’ve ever been constipated yourself, you will know that feeling of being really bloated and full. Even when you are hungry, the thought of food doesn’t fill you with joy like usual. So if your toddler is constipated, don’t expect them to be happy about having to sit and eat a meal either. My 2 year old often suffers with constipation, and we notice that he eats substantially more on the days that he has managed a bowel movement, but we’re still trying to figure out how to stop it ourselves.
The only way to tackle this is to figure out the cause of the constipation and stop it from happening again. Easier said than done I know! Here are some reasons that your 2 year old could become constipated.
Foods: certain foods are known to constipate and should be avoided. These include underripe bananas, rice, dairy products, red meat, but also you should beware of giving your toddler too much fibre too as this can give them too much bulk and if they are dehydrated then your toddler can easily become constipated.
Drinks: you need to ensure your toddler isn’t dehydrated, as this is one of the main culprits of constipation. Without enough water, the stools become “stuck” in the colon and cannot pass through easily. Although water is always the best drink to offer your toddler, if they begin to drink less, offer some watered down pure fruit juice such as orange or apple juice, or even cordial. Anything to keep them hydrated! Note again that milk can actually make constipation worse, so try not to overload your little one with too much milk.
Potty training: despite writing about preparing to potty train in my post When to Start Potty Training Boys, our son still hasn’t started potty training yet. However, if you have started to potty train your 2 year old and they suddenly become constipated, then it could be that they are too scared to poop on the potty or toilet. In this situation, the short term solution is to put your child into a nappy when they need to poop. When they are ready to do it on the toilet, they will. Don’t feel the need to rush it.
Pain: if your child is in pain when they pass a stool, it could be a sign of haemorrhoids or fissures. This can be a vicious cycle because if they have been in pain when passing a stool once, then they may try to hold in their poo to avoid the pain again. Holding it in then impacts the stools, and can cause it to hurt more when they do actually pass the stool. If your child seems in real pain when pooing, please see your doctor as they may advise to medicate with a stool softener.
Reason 3 – Asserting their independence
Let’s face it, two year olds are stubborn little creatures. They like the word “no” a lot. They pick and choose food that they like, and change their mind each and every day. This is all part and parcel of learning how to become independent, and making sure that everybody knows it!
If your two year old is not eating purely because of being stubborn, then there are a few tricks that you can try in order to get them to eat again:
- Give them a choice of what they can have for their meal, or at least allow them to choose part of it. For example, if you are having sandwiches for lunch, ask what they would like in the sandwich, ham or cheese? And would they like some apple or banana to go with that? With young children such as two year olds, it’s important not to overload them with too many choices. Two choices, or three at an absolute maximum is enough for them to feel like things are in their control without overwhelming them.
- Allow them to choose where they would like to sit to eat their dinner (within reason). Perhaps a picnic blanket on the floor might seem like a special treat? Or sitting at the adult dining table instead of in their high chair? See also my post from last week about whether they are ready to stop using a high chair.
Reason 4 – Too busy
Two year olds love to get involved in EVERYTHING. They are live wires. They cannot relax. Sitting down for half an hour at a time to eat food must seem like the most boring parts of their days. So how can we solve this problem?
Make mealtimes fun. There are lots of ways to do this, so get inventive! Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Turn their food into fun pictures, for example, make a smiley face in their bowl of porridge with some fruit pieces.
- Counting how many pieces of food are on the plate can provide many minutes of fun for a 2 year old, plus it’s great for numeracy practise. Eat time they eat something, ask them to count again.
- Play competitive games such as “how many peas can you get onto your fork and into your mouth in one go”.
Reason 5 – Not hungry
Sometimes your child simply isn’t hungry. Let’s face it, the same can be said for adults. I prefer my lunch after 12.30pm, and if somebody tried to feed me at 11.30am, I wouldn’t be hungry. It’s worth observing your child’s eating patterns for at least a week, write down what they ate and the time each day, and whether they ate most of the food at each meal or not. This can help you to figure out any patterns in their refusal to eat.
Another cause of this problem could be that you are allowing your toddler to snack too much. We were definitely guilty of this for a while. Our son would have a huge breakfast at around 8am, and then I would give him basically a second breakfast as a “snack” at 10.30am (when I was feeling slightly hungry myself). He would then eat hardly anything for his lunch at 12pm. Now, I’ve reduced his morning snack to just being a handful or grapes or raisins, or half a slice of toast, and he now happily eats almost 100% of his lunch every day.
If your 2 year old won’t eat, don’t despair. Many 2 year olds go through a phase of being a fussy eater, or refusing to eat altogether but as long as your child stays hydrated, a day or two of not eating will not damage them in the long term. However, if your child is also refusing to drink for more than 24 hours, or the avoidance of food is ongoing for more than 2 or 3 days, then you should take them to see your doctor for peace of mind.
Do you have a 2 year old who won’t eat? Or an older child who went through this phase? Can you think of any other reasons why your healthy two year old won’t eat? Please comment below with your experiences or suggestions to help other parents out!