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My son is two years old and has never been a good eater. He just refuses to eat anything. He'll usually have one bite of whatever we eat, but that's about as far as his interest goes. How can we get him to actually eat food?

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Does he go to daycare? – Karlson Feb 22 '12 at 3:32
Please clarify ... is he normal for height and weight, and is he getting nutrition some other way, such as from a bottle or breast? – tomjedrz Feb 22 '12 at 5:21
up vote 6 down vote accepted

You may just have a child that is a "grazer".

Our pediatrician asked us how our daughter was eating a while back and I said she just grazes and doesn't really eat a full meal at one time. It concerned me but the doctor told us as long as she was eating and didn't lose weight and wasn't weak or sick that she was fine. Your best bet is to take this issue up with your pediatrician since they know your child and can track trends in weight and health and give you ideas for how to make improvements since I am sure your child is not the first to have those kind of eating habits.

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Infants are much more instinctive than us adults. They eat when their body needs food (although it takes time for them to learn to consciously interpret their body's signals). As opposed to us who mostly eat when it is time to eat. And, as others noted, they differ wildly in their eating habits. Some are just not into eating that much.

If your son is otherwise healthy and has more or less normal weight, I would say it is OK. As a wise Hungarian expert wrote: no child is ever going to starve if there is food available. Just make sure that the little he eats is mostly healthy, diverse food, not sweets or junk food snacked in between regular meals.

Also it is important to note that the growth of children is not smooth and continuous: they grow in spurts. During such a growth spurt they may eat 2-3 times more than average for a few weeks or months. However, between spurts, they may eat much less.

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they may not starve, but most parents with sufficient food have higher standards than simply not letting their children starve. So a child that is not in to eating that much may not starve, but they also won't be as well nourished as a child who is given assistance with eating (especially at 2yo as in this question). – David LeBauer Mar 3 '12 at 1:01
@David, one's body can starve for many things: sheer calories, specific vitamin(s), mineral(s), water... I implied all of these. Note also that in a healthy, varied diet, all of these are present in more or less the right proportion. So if a parent firmly believes their child is getting enough raw calories but not nutrients, IMHO the solution is not to just push / cajole / bribe the child to eat more of the same inadequate food, but to rethink their diet. – Péter Török Mar 3 '12 at 9:16
but your answer did not suggest that the family should judge whether the child is getting enough raw calories, and I was particularly referring to the quote that "no child will ever starve if ... ". Also, using "more or less normal weight" as a guide gives a large margin for error. – David LeBauer Mar 5 '12 at 0:22
@David, who else should judge whether the child is getting enough raw calories if not the family first of all??? About "normal weight", don't expect me to provide any objective formula either. It's subjective judgement, rooted strongly in local culture. – Péter Török Mar 5 '12 at 8:54

Start by giving him smaller portions. Assuming he is of a healthy weight; if he's only eating a bite of the servings you're giving him, perhaps your portions are too large?

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Once children can speak, they can tell you 'I don't want that much' but until they can, they either protest noisily, don't eat the food (through protest) or only eat some of it. – JBRWilkinson Mar 10 '12 at 9:47

He will not starve and fighting with him will only give him attention, possible perpetuating the problem. Unless there is a weight issue of some kind, in which case speak to a pediatrician, just let it be. Don't give him snacks until snack time (2-3 hours after a meal) and don't let him fill up on liquids, especially before a meal. I found that when a child is about to make an academic leap they often don't eat well, as their mind is consumed with other things. Don't sweat it, he will be fine in the long run.

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