How to Handle a Food-Obsessed Toddler

Try these doctor-recommended ways to keep your food-focused kid eating a healthy portion size. 

Little Boy Excited Looking At Food EvgeniiAnd/Shutterstock

1. Stick to a schedule.

Picky eating is common at this age, but some toddlers are so excited about eating real foods that they go overboard and want to chow down all the time! The best way to deal with your child’s food demands and avoid excess calories is to stick to a routine. Have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and one or two snacks around the same time every day, so he learns when it’s time to eat. Give him plenty of water too; he may confuse thirst with hunger. 

2. Distract your toddler.

Kids this age may want to eat simply because they’re bored. If your child asks for food between her normal meals and snacks, draw her attention elsewhere. Go to the park, read a book, or dance together to her favorite song. 

3. Slow things down.

Speed eating puts little ones at risk for choking and makes it difficult for them to realize their tummy is full. Avoid mindless and rushed eating by turning off the TV and other screens during meals and insisting that your toddler sit down at the table. If he’s a gobbler, put only a small portion on his plate at a time. Serving high-fiber foods, such as soft fruits and vegetables, may also decrease his pace since they require more chewing.

4. Stand firm.

Yes, it’s difficult to keep saying “No” when your toddler asks for a cookie repeatedly or looks at you with those big “feed me” eyes. But giving in to her pleas teaches her that begging for food works. Plus, allowing her to graze all day can lead to overeating. If your toddler ate a hearty meal not long ago and you’re convinced she isn’t truly hungry, you can explain, “It’s not time to eat—you can have a banana when it’s snacktime.”

5. Appreciate the benefits.

If you’re lucky enough to have a hungry toddler, take advantage of it by introducing him to more adventurous foods, flavors, and textures. Now is a good time to serve up brussels sprouts, asparagus, fish, and other foods that tend to get a thumbsdown from young kids. You can even use his love of food to teach skills such as counting (“One, two, three apple slices!), identifying colors (“The broccoli is green”), and gardening (“Let’s plant this seed so we can grow peas”). He’ll enjoy the lessons, especially when he ultimately gets to eat the food.

Sources: Dina DiMaggio, M.D., coauthor of The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies & Toddlers; Nimali Fernando, M.D., M.P.H., coauthor of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater.