What To Do When Your Toddler Wants More Food

How do you react when your toddler wants more food during a meal or snack?

I know my gut reaction is always a grunt or a sigh (usually not out loud, ha!) because #1, I probably JUST sat down, and the one thing he’s asking for is back in the fridge, or #2, I was secretly hoping he would simply devour all his veggies and say “wow mom, what a delicious and nutritious meal.” (A girl can dream, right?)

So what’s a mom or dad to do when there’s still plenty of other food on the plate, but the wee dictator demands more of something? And let’s be real, it’s usually the carbs they want more of! As parents, we may take it as a sign that we are not parenting correctly or effectively if our child doesn’t eat the balanced meals that we serve them. Take that pressure off of yourself! What they ultimately eat is not in your control. Here are the things that you can do when your child wants more.

Toddler wants more food all the time | mamaknowsnutrition.com

Accept Appetite Variability

Young children will have varying levels of hunger every day. Whereas we as adults might be able to guess how much food we need at a meal, we aren’t usually successful in guessing how much our kids need. Factors like their growth and activity level affect their hunger. We don’t know what their body needs at any given time. They may be much hungrier than you realize, OR not nearly as hungry as you think they should be.

You can set yourself up for success by throwing out your expectations for how much they should eat. Instead of thinking, “they can’t possibly still be hungry,” try thinking, “I’m glad they’re listening to their body’s need for nourishment!”

 

Teach Mealtime Manners

When your toddler wants more food, let them have more — within reason. Even if you’re not thrilled that they want more mac and cheese, and haven’t touched their chicken or veggies, that mac and cheese is part of the meal you served. That means they can have seconds (or thirds) of anything that is offered. It’s not realistic to assume they are going to eat a balanced meal every time.

This is when you can teach that a meal is shared, and we have to leave some for everyone else, too. Food does run out, and that’s okay. No one has endless amounts of food prepared. If we have 6 hamburger buns and 4 people, then your child has to learn that everyone needs to get one before they can have another.

Serving a meal family style is a good teaching moment because they can visually see how much food is available, and see how everyone gets a chance to serve themselves a portion.

What if they finish eating their hamburger bun, and they ask for another? If everyone got one, yes, they can have another. Now they finish the second one, and ask for another? You can explain that we have to give others a chance to have a second helping, too. If they would like, they can eat some of the other foods on their plate. Notice we avoid saying things like, “you can have another if you eat ___ first.” It’s important to avoid pressuring them to eat something they do not want to eat.

 

Be a Role Model

If you want your kids to one day eat balanced meals, show them what that looks like. Serve a balanced meal on your own plate, and try to fill your plate with about half vegetables/fruit. If they grow up seeing their parents eat huge plates of pasta with a side of bread every single week, they will accept that as normal. If they grow up seeing their parents eating a variety of foods, that is more likely to become normal for them, too.

Research does show that children eat more fruits and vegetables if they see adults enjoying them!

And, there is nothing wrong with indulging in less healthy meals from time to time. The point here is that it shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence if you are trying to establish healthy habits.

 

Avoid Restriction

If we place a strict limit or tell them they’ve had enough, they lose an opportunity to listen to what their body wants. They are getting the message that this is a food they can’t be trusted around. Or there is something different about this food that keeps mom from letting them have more. Or even, “mom doesn’t want me to eat so much.”

This plays into your overall feeding style. Too much control over what and how much they eat can backfire.

Having a more relaxed approach and putting more trust in your little one might end some of your mealtime battles.

Do you worry about the lack of nutrition in the food they want more of? Think about what you are serving at meals most of the time. If unhealthy options are creeping into meals more often than you’d like, it’s time to re-examine the meal plan. Remember, you choose what you serve. It doesn’t have to be 100% healthy 100% of the time. But if you are comfortable with the foods you serve, you’re more likely to feel okay when they want more!

 

7 Comments

Sam · January 10, 2021 at 11:10 am

What about when your child has eaten and is then begging for food from someone else after meal time. I am temporarily staying with my parents while my husband is gone (military) and it is really common for us all not to eat at the same time right now. Is it okay if they give her extra food from their plate? Or even sometimes this occurs between meals and then she doesn’t want to eat at snack time etc.

Brooke · August 31, 2021 at 7:16 pm

Our 1 year old has never been able to know when he’s full – he was same way with bottles of breast milk and now with solids. He literally has never turned away or given any cue he’s done so at some point we just need to stop. When he was on bottles both GI drs had us limit his milk consumption bc he would spit up large volumes. It just seems to have continued on same path with solids and his weight is growing at a fast rate than his height and it worries me. I don’t want to restrict him and create issues later but we also have to stop at some point. He gets 3 meals and 3 snacks- all of which are nutrient dense ans no fillers (puffs etc). I’m really at a loss- dr is not worried about genetic disorders thankfully. Have you ever experienced this?

    Mama Knows Nutrition · September 2, 2021 at 10:53 am

    hey I totally get it! I’m so glad you brought it to the pediatrician’s attention so that you can rule out any genetic disorders. I would give him more time in between servings. Start with 1-2 tablespoons of each food on his plate. Encourage utensils so that it slows him down a bit if he’s eating quickly with his hands. Cut food into small bites (chickpea size) to discourage him from stuffing big pieces in his mouth. And then give a few minutes before refilling his plate. Slowing down the pace should give his body more time to read signals of fullness. You can also talk to him about how YOUR belly is feeling before and throughout the meal to start teaching him to tune in. Sometimes it’s a sensory related thing which is not my expertise but an occupational therapist or a speech language pathologist who specializes in feeding could be a great place to get some more feedback on how to help him! You can ask the pediatrician for a referral to a feeding therapist — they are always OTs or SLPs — or google “sos feeding therapist near me.” (SOS is a feeding therapy approach that I prefer)

Mariana · September 16, 2021 at 11:07 pm

What about when you offer the food and they just look at it and don’t even want to see??? Maybe 7out of 10 she won’t taste the food… before knowing about this website I was hand feeding my daughter….I am really tired of tryin and trying new things… I think my mistake started when I stopped offering my daughter more variety of food…my mind just gets blank when is time for cooking.. I don’t know what to offer my daughter to eat anymore…. 😔😔😔… is

Mariana · September 16, 2021 at 11:08 pm

Hello

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Hi, I’m Kacie!

I’m a mom of two and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I offer e-guides and e-books (go to my Shop page), workshops, brand partnerships, and nutrition counseling. Check out my blog for nutrition and feeding tips for your little ones.

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