Tips to Help Toddlers Eat

Can't get your toddler to eat? Here is a list of different tips and tricks to help them enjoy their meals.

Ever since Rhys discovered his independence at around his first birthday, feeding him has sometimes been a fight and a hassle. Sometimes he’d rather play, or eat something different, or claim he’s not hungry at all (which may or may not be true). At the beginning of this rebellious stage, it got so bad that Rhys would take a bite or two of any meal, then go on a hunger strike until he was left alone. It would frustrate me so much–he was still skinnier and smaller than other kids, and I was an over-anxious first-time mom. However, as he’s grown older, he’s gotten much better about eating, and is quite average with weight and is taller than a lot of kids his age, but there are still some days (most days) that I have to incline him to eat. But, I have gotten quite a few tricks on how to help a toddler eat!

Can't get your toddler to eat? Here is a list of different tips and tricks to help them enjoy their meals.

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Use a Distraction

Sometimes, toddlers will be more willing to eat if they are distracted–they won’t really be paying attention to what goes in their mouth. We have allowed Rhys to play with toys plenty of times while eating a meal. True, it means we have to feed him, but it works. Building blocks are great, puzzle toys are wonderful, even cooking supplies easily distract.

Use TV

Yes. I let my toddler watch TV when he eats. Rhys and I have lunch on the couch every day because we also nap on the couch. I set up a TV tray (which he loves, because he feels like such a big boy), and give him finger foods. About 90% of the time, he’ll clean his entire plate while watching Nick Junior.

However, with breakfast and dinner, we try to always eat at the table as a family. So, when we need a little extra help to get Rhys to eat, we pull out our phones or laptop and let him watch videos. This way, he’s still distracted enough to eat, but at the table with the family.

Change Location

Sometimes Rhys doesn’t want to be strapped into his booster seat. So, I let him sit in a normal chair and his attitude changes. Or, if I plop him on my lap, he’ll eat off his plate while I eat off mine. However, there have been a few times where he just can’t sit still. So, we let him run and play, and pull him over for a bite every now and then, which works just fine.

Can't get your toddler to eat? Here is a list of different tips and tricks to help them enjoy their meals.

Include Some “Yummy” Food In Each Bite

There was a time that Rhys wouldn’t eat his baby oatmeal for breakfast. But, if I put on small pieces of fruit on each spoonful, he was more than willing to eat it. The same still applies today: if there is a part of his meal that he isn’t too happy about, I put some of it with the part of his meal that he does like. For instance, he’s not the biggest fan of potatoes, but loves chicken. So, a piece of chicken goes on the same spoonful as the mashed potatoes. We also use the switch method. Rhys can have a bite of fruit after they take a bite of the healthy part.

Time Out

Sometimes, Rhys exhibits bad behavior when he is refusing to eat. He’ll scream, or throw his food, or spit it out on the floor, or hit us. So, we tell him to go to time-out for a minute or two. Now, we are very lucky. Rhys is such a good, smart boy when it comes to time-out. He’ll cry and fuss the whole time, but he will go on his own to the time-out chair and sit there until we get him. Remember, though, for toddlers, it’s one minute per year of age in time-out. So, after two minutes, we go over, tell him what he did wrong, in a calm voice, give him a hug, and ask him if he will finish his dinner. Typically, he’ll nod his head and typically, he’ll eat the rest of his dinner…typically.

Animated Spoon

We’ve all seen the stereotypical, “here comes the airplane/choo-choo train”. Well, it works even more two year olds. But, we have to make it animated. Sometimes, we’ll even ask Rhys, “how does a dinosaur/lion/monster/dragon/alligator eat?” And he’ll take a big chomping bite.

Can't get your toddler to eat? Here is a list of different tips and tricks to help them enjoy their meals.

Playing with Food

I remember reading somewhere that when babies and toddlers play with food, they are actually learning. Although it makes a mess, sometimes I’ll let Rhys play with his food because he is more willing to put it in his mouth if he can stack it, rip it, squish it, etc.


Bribery works very well with Rhys–“if you want to go swimming, you have to take 3 more bites.” “Do you want me to turn off Daniel Tiger? Then take another drink of milk.” “You can have some M&Ms if you take a bite.” We always make sure to follow through. If it’s taking something away, we give it back once Rhys takes a bite.

If all else fails, use Cheerios

Sometimes, nothing works. So, as much as I hate it, I’ll just give Rhys some Cheerios or other cereal. I don’t make separate meals for Rhys. I believe that even from a young age, children should eat what the rest of the family eats and should be exposed to all kinds of foods. Rhys is not picky. There are hardly any foods that he doesn’t like. But, when he doesn’t want to eat, that’s a different story. So, after exhausting all other tricks, sometimes I resort to Cheerios. And then, if he still doesn’t want to eat, then, I’m done trying to get him to eat. He won’t starve.

What other tips or tricks do you use to get your toddlers to eat?

Tayler from The Morrell

Tayler is a work at home mom. She does free lance articles and dabbles in graphic design and virtual assisting for bloggers. She spent 3 years as a history and English teacher. Her passions are her husband, two children, history, reading, nature, and her Savior, Jesus Christ.


  1. This cracks me up, mostly because some of these things we would never do in our house! Not that it’s bad you do them, it’s just so funny to me how different each family can be 🙂 I’m sure Rhys is getting all the nutrition he needs! You’re a great mom!

      1. I guess in a nutshell our approach is you eat at the table, in your seat, with no distractions, all together as a family. Pretty similar to Ashley above, actually. Except we do have snacks. And when they are babies starting out to eat, I let them “play” but now I don’t (with Abe). And then, yep, if he doesn’t eat, he doesn’t eat, haha.

  2. We have used bribery quite a few times on our boys. As long as they are getting enough healthy foods every day, I don’t see the harm in being creative in getting them to eat! Now, my toddler wants to do what his older brother does…so if he sees my 5 year old eating something, he will usually start chowing down too.

    1. Exactly! And bribery doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Rhys absolutely loves strawberries and peaches. So, we bribe him with those…”take a bite of spaghetti and then you can have another strawberry.”

  3. I don’t have kids but this cracked me up! I know I caused my parents a lot of grief because I was so picky!

  4. These are all such good tips. I’ve found that if I make Mason’s food look ‘fun’, like cut his sandwiches cookie cutters, he’s more likely to eat it. I aspire to be one of those mom’s you see on Pinterest with reindeer shaped pancakes and bear face toast but for now “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

  5. When my boys were little I used all of the above tricks, except the phones at the table. We didn’t have the cell phones back then. LOL! You have to do what you have to do to get those kids to eat sometimes. I wish I could be more like that! Have a great day!

  6. I had the same reaction as Britt haha… my approach to food and mealtimes is SO different than this! The only similarity is our time out policy 😉 Throwing food = immediate time out. Crazy how different families can be, but we all do what works for us!

      1. Ooooh, I think I’d need to write my own post to explain it all haha. I’ve drawn a lot from French parenting techniques (the book “French Kids Eat Everything” is a good general example of my methods, although I’m far less extreme than the French about food) and I’ve drawn ideologies from the book “It’s Not About the Broccoli” too. So… read reviews or snippets from those books and you’ll get a general idea of my approach haha. The methods deal not just with picky eating, but also with eating habits such as when you eat, where you eat, how you treat food, etc. Eh, it works for us.

        1. I actually read Bringing Up Bebe when Rhys was a newborn and loved it and used quite a few techniques. I also remember watching this series of a 2 year old Korean eating international dishes ravenously and decided I wanted hat for my children. We give Rhys what we eat for dinner and we don’t make a separate meal for him (90% of the time). Rhys is actually a very good eater and loves all different flavor a of food. But he is definitely independent and stubborn (like me). Most of my tips are for just getting them to eat when they don’t want to.

          1. Rhys does seem great at eating a wide variety of foods, I’m definitely not arguing with that!

            Bring Up Bebe is a good one. The book I mentioned goes even more in-depth about French food habits, such as no distractions at the table, keeping the food at the table (no TV meals), no bribery (whether bribing the kid to eat food or using food AS bribery to get the kid to do/eat something), food is not a toy, etc… so I guess that’s what I meant when I said that my methods are “French”. Of course, I’ve never had to be worried about Nicole’s weight. That’s a whole different ballpark of anxiety that I’ve never had to deal with, and I commend you for powering through it with Rhys. First-time moms have enough to worry about as it is! Since I don’t have that additional factor stressing me out, I’m never concerned if Nicole decides to eat only a couple bites and then announces that she’s done eating. I just say “Okay then, remember that you don’t get more food until the next meal!” and that’s that. She doesn’t get snacks, and I trust her to know her tummy better than I do. I never try to push her or cajole her to eat more because it’ll just stress me AND her out. Toddlers can have a huge appetite one day and then get full off of 3 grapes the next day haha. But like I said, we all do what works for us! In any case, we’ll see if I change my tune once baby #2 is thrown into the mix. Game changer!

          2. Thankfully we have to use these tips a lot less than we did a year ago! (Although they’ve come
            Back up a lot this past month do to moving to a new state…darn transitions 😉). We definitely have set times to eat: 8 am breakfast, 10 am snack, noon lunch, 3:30-4 snack (whwnever he wakes up from nap), 5:30 dinner. Most of the time we try one or two tips then if he still refuses we say ok, no more dinner. But like you said, anxiety is a big part of it and sometimes I just don’t want to fight him to eat. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how Evelyn acts once she’s born and able to start having solids.

          3. Transitions are rough! And each kid is so different. I bet having a strong-willed kid like Rhys makes mealtimes a different experience than having a chill kid like Nicole. My own grandmother told me that I’m spoiled by how chill she is. I bet this next one is going to be a stubborn fireball just to throw me a curveball! Haha! And Evelyn is such a pretty name, by the way 🙂

  7. When my kids were toddlers they ate better when watching a show too. Now we try and eat without media on but when they won’t eat you have to use anything possible.

  8. All the doctors, nutritionists, and other professionals I’ve interacted with always advise that kids, especially toddlers, will eat when they’re hungry. I agree with a couple of the other commenters, definitely different than what has worked with my 4 kiddos, mainly because of the screentime dependence. Mothering is hard, glad you’ve found a solution that works for your situation.

    1. However my son has always struggled with weight and he never lets us know when he is hungry. He would go a whole day without eating if we didn’t offer him food. I really try to limit screen time. Typically he only watches during lunch and then if he needs a distraction (not often) during dinner…but AT the dinner table.

  9. I found letting toddlers graze through the day was enough to get them to eat healthy food. Finger foods seem to do the trick too!

    1. I love using finger foods! And there are definitely grazing says…especially if I am the one grazing throughout the day, I’ll let him
      Graze along with me! 😂

  10. When my oldest was a toddler I had the same concern. But, our doc told me to really look at what she eats in a week rather than a day. That helped me calm down with numbers 2 and 3 🙂

  11. Toddlers can be a challenge when it comes to feeding time! I really think we can use as many tips as we can from other parents, which is why this is so cool! It’s important to make meal time fun and exciting for them and sometimes we just really run out of ideas!

  12. My sister is dealing with this right now! Her toddler has been a beast about eating. Her baby wants to eat real food all the time but her toddler only ever once something to drink.

    1. It amazes me and confuses me. I mean, Rhys likes a wide variety of foods, but there are just some days he won’t even eat his favorite meals!?!?

  13. We’ve used each and every one of these! For the longest time Marcus simply would not eat sitting down. So, we’d all go to the living room and eat while Marcus would play, take a bite, rinse, wash, repeat. Things have gotten better since he’s gotten older, thankfully.

  14. I wish I would have read this about 16 years ago! I have 2 teenagers that won’t eat hardly anything but junk! Somewhere along the way I guess I gave up on trying to get them to eat healthier!

    1. That’s why I struggle so much! I mean, there are some healthy foods that taste good, like fruits and chicken, but vegetables are the hardest with my son, if it’s not peas!

  15. I tried to let my picky eater bring toys, tablets nothing works for him. Good old fashion bribery has been the best or threating paw patrols will not get turned on. Great tips!

  16. When Caleb was sick he stopped eating and I though it was just stubbornness. Now that we have him off dairy and he’s feeling so much better he eats like a horse again! Sorry you’re dealing with the stubbornness! <3

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