Appetite Slump In Toddlers


Characteristics of a child with a normal decline in appetite:

  • It seems to you that your child doesn’t eat enough, is never hungry, or won’t eat unless you spoon feed her yourself
  • Your child is between 1-5 years old
  • Your child’s energy level remains normal
  • Your child is growing normally

Appetite Slump In Toddlers

Between 1-5 years of age, many children normally gain only 4-5 pounds each year even though they probably gained 15 pounds during their first year. Children in this age range can normally go 3-4 months without any weight gain. Because they are not growing as fast, they need fewer calories and they seem to have a poorer appetite (this is called psychological anorexia). How much a child chooses to eat is governed by the appetite center in the brain. Children eat as much as they need for growth and energy. Many parents try to force their children to eat more than they need because they fear that poor appetite might cause poor health or a nutritional deficiency. This is not true; however, forced feedings interfere with the normal pleasure of eating and actually decrease a child’s appetite.

Expected Course

Once you allow your child to be in charge of how much is eaten, the unpleasantness at mealtime and your concerns about her health should disappear in 2- 4 weeks. Your child’s appetite will improve when she becomes older and needs to eat more.

Helping A Poor Eater Rediscover Appetite

Put your child in charge of how much she eats.

Trust your child’s appetite center. The most common reason for some children never appearing hungry is that they have so many snacks and meals that they never become truly hungry. Offer your child no more than two small snacks of nutritious food each day, and provide them only if hour child requests them. If your child is thirsty between meals, offer water. Limit the amount of juice your drinks to less than 6 ounces each day. Let your child miss one or two meals if she chooses and then watcher appetite return. Skipping a meal is harmless.

Never feed your child if she is capable of feeding herself.

The greatest tendency of parents of a child with a poor appetite is to pick up the spoon, fill it with food, smile, and try to trick the child into taking it. Once your child is old enough to usea spoon independently (usually 15-18 months), never again pick it up for her. If your child is hungry, she will feed herself.

Offer finger foods.

Finger foods can be started at 8- 10 months of age. Such foods allow your child to self- feed at least some of the time, even if she is not yet able to use a spoon.

Limit milk to less than 16 ounces each day.

Milk contains as many calories as most solid foods. Drinking too much milk can fill kids up and dull their appetites.

Serve small portions of food – less than you think your child will eat.

A child’s appetite is decreased if she is served more food than she could possible eat. If you serve your child a small amount on a large plate, she is more likely to finish it and gain a sense of accomplishment. If your child seems to want more, wait for her to ask for it. Avoid serving your child any foods that she strongly dislikes (such as some vegetables).

Consider giving your child daily vitamins.

Although vitamins are probably unnecessary, they are not harmful in normal dosages and may allow you to relax about your child’s eating patterns.

Make mealtimes pleasant.

Draw your children into the conversation. Avoid making mealtimes a time for criticism or struggle over control.

Avoid conversation about eating.

Don’t discuss how little your child eats in her presence. Trust your child’s appetite center to look after her food needs. Also, don’t praise your child for eating a lot. Children should eat to please themselves.

Don’t extend mealtime.

Don’t make your child sit at the dinner table after the rest of the family is done eating. This will only cause your child to develop unpleasant associations with mealtime.


By the time your child is 8-10 months old, start giving her finger foods. By 12 months of age, your child will begin to use a spoon, and she should be able to feed herself completely by 15 months of age.

CALL OUR OFFICE During regular hours if:

  • Your child is losing weight.
  • Your child has not gained any weight in 6 months.
  • Your child has associated symptoms of illness (such as diarrhea or fever).
  • Your child gags on or vomits some foods.
  • Someone is punishing your child for not eating.
  • This approach has not improved mealtimes in your house within 1 month.
  • You have other questions or concerns.

If you are still having problems with feedings and would like more help, we love to use our friends over at the Step by Step Pediatric feeding clinic.