Toddler Refusing Food? Here’s How To Deal with Tantrums During Mealtimes

Is your toddler refusing food? Does their behaviour at mealtimes leave a lot to be desired? If teatime is also tantrum-time in your household it can have you tearing your hair out as you a) try and get them to eat something and b) deal with the stress on top of the mess!

Toddler tantrums at mealtimes are an unfortunate fact of life. As are toddler tantrums, full stop. But if the terrible twos is also making its presence felt in the form of bad mealtime behaviour, you’ll no doubt be looking for some tips to help you deal with toddler food refusal.  

Why Your Toddler is Refusing Food

First of all, it’s important to remember why toddlers throw tantrums. 

For the most part, tantrums are the result of young children not having yet developed the vocabulary, as well as the social and emotional skills they need, to communicate. 

Toddlers often don’t have the exact words to tell you why they’re tired, upset, frustrated, unhappy and so on, so they resort to physical communication such as kicking or rolling on the floor, accompanied by screams and tears.

And when it comes to bad toddler mealtime behaviour, ironically, the tantrum could be caused by them being hungry. 

But again, expressing this feeling in words is often beyond very young children and they do not yet have the comprehension to understand that eating the food you’ve prepared for them will solve the problem!

So how do you cope with an unruly, tired or hungry child who just won’t eat?

Toddler Food Refusal and Tantrums: Some Tips

We know how frustrating it can be trying to get toddlers who are refusing food to eat, so we’ve put together a few tips to help.

– Stop Snacks Between Meals

Just like us grownups, if we’re constantly grazing between meals when lunch or dinner rolls around –  surprise, surprise, we’re just not that hungry.

The same applies to your little one. Toddler food refusal can be down to something as simple as them not being hungry. Try cutting out or only sticking to planned snacks and see if that helps.

– Make Mealtimes Fun

If toddler tantrums at mealtimes are becoming horribly inevitable, try throwing something a little different into the mix.

Just as insomniacs associate bed with somewhere they’re not able to sleep, your child might benefit from eating somewhere different once in a while. Picnics are always fun – even if they’re on the living room floor when the weather isn’t great.

– Praise Good Mealtime Behaviour

There’s an argument for ignoring toddler tantrums at mealtimes and instead only praising your child when they tuck in or clean their plate. 

By doing so, your child will soon realise that good mealtime behaviour results in getting attention, while bad behaviour and meltdowns do not.

– Bring Out Their Inner Green Eyed Monster

Generally speaking, toddlers are possessive. You know what happens when one of their little friends tries to play with their favourite toy – more often than not, it will be highly protested against!

So stir up those feelings of jealousy and possessiveness by pretending to eat their food for them. Chances are, if you’re sneaking a mouthful of whatever’s on their plate you’ll get the “it’s mine!” treatment and they’ll start eating.

– Include Them In the Conversation

Being ignored often leads to acting up. If your toddler is feeling neglected because adults or older children are chatting around the dinner table, this could result in a mealtime tantrum or in your toddler refusing their food.

Again this is because they don’t have the words to tell you that they want to be included too. Ask them what they enjoyed doing at nursery. Enquire about their friends and who they played with. Remove the need to throw a tantrum and they won’t need to refuse to eat to make a point.

Toddler Mealtime Behaviour and Consistency

One thing to keep in mind is that the way you approach mealtimes needs to be consistent. If you choose to ignore poor toddler mealtime behaviour, make sure you always do so. Otherwise you will confuse your child with mixed messages.

Also do what feels right for you, your family, and of course, your child. If your toddler is refusing food, try not to make the situation feel any more tense than it already is.

Relax and don’t turn it into a big issue. If you do, your child will pick up on this and will react the only way they know how: by having an even bigger meltdown.

Mealtimes at Little Angels

We’re no strangers to toddler food refusal, but our experience in caring for children with a wide range of eating habits and palettes has helped us develop a considered approach to mealtimes at our nurseries.

Your child will be served a healthy, balanced, nutritious and organic breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and tea – all prepared on-site, daily by our in-house chef.

We do everything we can to ensure that mealtimes are happy and stress-free for your child and we change our menus weekly to ensure that children don’t get bored, so that toddler tantrums at mealtimes are kept to a minimum! We also cater for special dietary requirements.

Our ‘international discovery Wednesdays’ aim to help children develop their palette and discover new cuisines, as we find that this helps them engage with their food and make mealtimes more fun – and food refusal less likely.

We also encourage children to learn about the foods they eat at Little Angels. Again, this creates engagement and interest as well as helping them to make healthy choices. 

In addition, meals, and the approach to mealtimes, are adapted to your child’s developmental stage, age, needs and diet. We also work closely with parents or guardians to ensure we’re mirroring your efforts at home.  

Learn More About Mealtimes at Little Angels Nursery

Ready to find out more about how our Little Angels nursery in Perkins Square can help your child develop their palette and learn to love mealtimes? 

Sign up for one of our nursery open days or download a brochure now.