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Why does my toddler refuse to eat?

Why does my toddler go on hunger strikes?
Submitted by Parents Team

Toddler eating habits can be frustratingly irregular -- it's common for a kid to skip breakfast and lunch for two days straight, for example, or insist on eating only mac and cheese for a week. Although hunger strikes can be exasperating, any veteran parent will tell you they won't last long. Remember that kids are smart, and an otherwise healthy child will not intentionally starve himself to prove a point (no matter how stubborn he may seem). Hunger strikes tend to happen now because your child's growth and appetite slow down in his second year of life. Also, toddlers are very busy people; the mere fact that it's dinnertime doesn't mean that your child wants to stop what he's doing, or even that he's hungry. All you can really do in this situation is stay calm and ride it out. Continue to offer nutritious meals and snacks, with a variety of foods in small portions he can choose from (since many times these hunger strikes are about control). And if your kid doesn't eat much at lunch don't make a big deal of it; chances are he'll make up for it at dinner. --Susanna Schrobsdorff

Copyright 2004. Reprinted with permission from the 2000 issue of Parents magazine. Updated 2009

The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.

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