Home parenting My child does not want to eat – tips for every age

My child does not want to eat – tips for every age

by ines.wurbs@icloud.com

Picky children: a problem that unfortunately affects many. It’s a concern, especially for us parents. A picky eater is a term we hear and read more and more often.

Fussy kids are a very common problem, especially among toddlers. Studies vary greatly and show the proportion of picky children between 8% and even 50%. These results vary greatly because most studies relate to different age groups.

There are some basic behaviors like when, where, and how to eat that we can look at and some specific tips based on the age of the child. Of course, there are also some rules, i.e. things that you should urgently refrain from. I have summarized all of this for you here.

My child does not try food

When kids don’t try the food, it’s usually because they’re picky eaters. The following behavior is typical in such situations:

  • The children only eat a limited amount
  • Certain food will be refused (mostly vegetables)
  • No unfamiliar food will try
  • There are strong preferences for just a few foods

How does it affect parents when children don’t want to eat?

Parents are usually concerned about their children’s picky eating habits. This often leads to arguments when eating with the child. This is of course understandable, but it is still awful for the eating environment and therefore puts the child under pressure. This pressure normally only leads to more resistance.

But parents often start arguing with each other about their children’s eating habits. This can create anxiety in children. On the one hand, fear of loss, and on the other hand, a bad conscience. However, this only leads to refusal. The children want to avoid unpleasant situations. And when there is a fight at the table or a fight over the food, the unpleasant situation is the food itself. The children then usually avoid it.

Consequences of picky eating for children

Interestingly, there are only unclear long-term studies, i.e. over several years, in this area. However, you often see that children who are picky eaters tend to be underweight because they eat too few calories overall.

But obesity can also be a consequence. Mainly because picky eaters are more inclined toward so-called “comfort foods” and sweets. So, almost exclusively pizza, burgers, pasta, and Co. are eaten.

Of course, restricted eating habits can also lead to vitamin deficiencies. Iron and calcium in particular, but also vitamins D and E are lacking in such eating habits.

German study showed that children who are picky about food are more likely to develop anorexia and tend to have behavioral problems. Behavior is usually quite stable throughout childhood. That said, children who are picky eaters in early childhood tend to be picky eaters throughout childhood.

What is normal, and what is no longer normal when it comes to children’s eating habits?

Children don’t have to like everything we put in front of them. This study shows that even children who are classified as not choosy also have about 60 – 70% strong preferences. Half also have strong dislikes. This is completely normal.

And one thing in advance. Many children (68%) showed an improvement in eating behavior after 2 years.

It is noticeable that picky children are simply much stricter in their choice of food. Not at all with the quantity, but rather with the choice. Also, as already mentioned, they are not willing to try anything new.

Picky eaters tend to eat slowly. Boys who are picky eaters are significantly more likely to throw tantrums (37% vs. 4%) when their parents say no to a meal. Anger outbursts are also more common among picky girls, but the frequency is only 3% higher than among non-choosy girls.

The good news: this study also showed that the behavior increases until children are about 6 years old, and then remains the same.

 not pickypicky
Eat only a few different foods14%92%
Food is specially prepared16%64%
Accepts new foods with no problem63%0%
Has strong preferences65%91%
Has strong dislikes47%100%
Eat slowly17%20%
Eat fast14%12%
Has tantrums when parents say no to food6%28%
Chart picky eater vs. not picky eater

Source: Picky eating during childhood: A longitudinal study to the age of 11 

The main difference between the parents of picky children and the parents of non-picky children is that they comment on their children’s eating habits much more frequently and are significantly more willing to prepare their children a separate meal. In addition, parents of picky children, especially boys, are more likely to reward their children with food.


However, parents of picky children do not put more or less pressure on their children when it comes to eating.

From this, it can be concluded that picky children (at least those who start in early childhood and for whom the behavior disappears after about 2 years) probably just take longer to get used to the different foods.

If you are unsure, here are the general calorie requirements for children:

agekcal per daykcal per kg body weight
0 – 3 months65093
4 to 12 months85092
1 to 3 years1,30089
4 to 6 years1,80080
7 to 9 years2,00072
Girls 10 to 14 years2,20064
Boys 10 to 14 years2,50055
Girls 15 to 18 years2,20046
Boys 15 to 18 years3,00043
chart kcal per day for kids

Source: https://kize.eu/ – For medical clarification, please contact your pediatrician!

Why kids don’t want to eat

Picky Eater

One of the most common reasons children don’t want to eat is that our children are picky about what they eat. But that’s not the only one. The following points should also be considered:

Parental ideas

Often it is just our parents’ ideas about how much and what a child should eat. Of course, especially when it comes to the quality question, as adults we usually know each other well and are the “experts” within the family.

But for the quantity, it’s our kids who are the experts themselves. Depending on their growth and development, children often eat very different amounts. In this case, we should trust our children as experts on their bodies.

Children can sense hunger very well. However, it often seems very little to us. Or we compare our children with others in their eating habits. However, children are not well comparable. Even if they’re the same age, it doesn’t mean they’re going through the same developmental spurt or need the same thing.

Of course, many parental ideas have their meaning and are well founded. However, some are easily misleading. Be it through the comparisons I just mentioned with other children or through comparisons with yourself. If you have any concerns about this, simply clarify this at your next pediatrician appointment.

Parental ideas

Lately, the topic of food allergies has increasingly come to the fore in this context. Of course, this does not fall within my area of ​​expertise. However, the study above also mentioned that many parents think of an allergy when their children refuse to eat.

According to the medical report, this is quite possible, but of course, it is not always the reason for it. Again, I can only recommend a clarifying discussion with your pediatrician or, if necessary, a medical clarification. My research and information from the pediatrician have shown that blood tests for allergies are possible from the age of one. Although they are still not 100% reliable, more like 60-70%. But blood tests can also be revealing here if the suspicion is justified.

My 1-year-old doesn’t want to eat

By the time your child is 1 year old, most doctors recommend that they eat at mealtimes with family meals. However, I have found that many children of this age still prefer porridge. This can be because:

  • They find the consistency more comfortable
  • They are still too distracted by the nature of solid food
  • Have pain from teething and porridge is more comfortable
  • They are just used to mush, and some children only slowly get used to new things
  • We often feed porridge and this is accompanied by more social interaction and many children prefer it

Some have not yet been weaned, so of course, they need less solid food. The same goes for giving the bottle. Milk food in any form saturates our children. Of course, this also means you eat less.

What can I do to make my 1-year-old eat more?

  • Reduce milk meals
  • Let your child experiment (touch, smell, taste) with their food
  • Let your child eat for themselves, but still stand by and help if necessary
  • Let your child eat at the family table
  • Let your child eat what the rest of the family eats
  • Arrange the food on small plates
  • Serve smaller portions, so your child isn’t overwhelmed by the crowd.
  • Don’t force your child to eat
  • Let your child watch you cook or stir something up
  • Show your child that you taste the food too
  • Let children also taste raw, uncooked things (of course only if they can be tolerated raw)
  • Do not pay undue attention when your child puts something aside from the plate
  • If your child is just using more to mash or shovel food, put it away


Exploring food: YES. Playing with food (while eating): NO

My 2-year-old / 3-year-old child does not want to eat

When they are toddlers, our children are definitely out of the pap. They have already gotten used to solid food and most of them are no longer breastfed. However, some children are already picky and reluctant to try new things. This phase of getting to know new foods is not yet over for some children of this age. 

Cutlery is often a problem at this age. They should now eat mainly with cutlery. On the one hand, it is exciting for children to be able to eat with cutlery themselves, but for most, it is still quite exhausting. This can also take away the joy of eating for our children. Activities that are strenuous for our children are happily avoided. It can be the same with eating. If it’s too tiring, just let it go.

Snacks are also often an issue at this age. Children should also eat about 5 times a day. Some parents tend to give small snacks in between.

But fruits are one of 5 meals for our children. If, for example, you give your child a banana between meals, this naturally reduces hunger at the main meals. They are also superb at getting small extra snacks at this age. Theoretically, this is not a problem, unless you as a parent have the feeling that your child then eats almost exclusively snacks. Then of course you should limit these snacks. And often such small snacks are also sweet, which is sometimes not so optimal.


A child needs to try food about 30 times before they get used to the taste.

What can I do to make my 2 or 3-year-old eat more?

  • Reduce between meals
  • Your child should eat the same food as you and not something different or something extra if he doesn’t eat the food.
  • Let your child still explore their food.
  • Show your child again and again how it is best to use a fork and spoon and how it is easier, or give a little help if necessary
  • Let your child use their fingers to help them find the pieces
  • Eat at least one meal together
  • Eat the main meals at the table
  • Arrange child-sized portions on non-slip children’s plates so that your child is not overwhelmed by the quantity
  • Let your child help with the cooking. Pouring, stirring, or even peeling something is particularly fun at this age.
  • Explain the food to your child. What is it, what variety is it, where does it come from, what does it smell like, what does it taste like uncooked, and so on. This encourages interest in food
  • Ask your child how much they want or if there is already enough on the plate
  • If your child doesn’t want to eat something, leave it alone. It doesn’t have to like everything. However, the food should remain on the plate. Your child can just leave it to themselves.
  • Even now, if your child is just playing around with the food, put it away.
  • Set family rules for candy. Sweets are okay sometimes. When our children know when it’s okay and when it’s not, or that they have to ask first, it’s easier for them to adjust and sometimes accept a no.


You can try quickly grabbing something your child is pushing away for yourself and commenting, “Uh, thanks. I especially like to eat that.”

Okay, admittedly not 100% pedagogically valuable, but it helped us.

My 4-year-old / 5-year-old child does not want to eat

At this age, children tend to be quite picky. On the one hand, this has to do with growing autonomy, on the other hand, our children now have much more experience with food. They know exactly what they like and what they don’t like, and they also know exactly what’s okay with mum and dad and what’s not. Of course, many children prefer to eat sweets and to get hold of as many of them as possible.

What can I do to make my 4 or 5-year-old eat more?

  • Make sure that your child does not eat too much in between. Desserts should, of course, be included in the absolute amount eaten.
  • Let your child serve their food
  • Let your child help with the cooking. Cutting, seasoning, and tasting are appropriate at this age.
  • Let your child taste whatever they want
  • Decorate your child’s food in a fun way, such as food with funny faces or animals
  • Eat the main meals at the family table
  • Eat as a family or together as often as possible
  • Play food guessing games from time to time (see below)
  • Turn off the television
  • Your child is allowed to have preferences
  • Possibly let your child eat with others in the kindergarten. Children try a lot more in a group than alone
  • Establish rules for sweets no later than this age. Even if they are very open, it is good for our children if they know when it is okay for them to eat sweets and when not.

My child from the age of 6 does not want to eat

At the age of 6 years, the plateau of picky eaters is usually reached. That means it usually doesn’t get any worse. Rather only better. At this age, self-regulation is already quite well developed. Our children can also withdraw themselves if the situation requires it.

This means that we can now try to argue with our children and discuss and explain the importance and necessity of a balanced diet with them. So, hold a little “nutrition class”. What is healthy, what does our body need, what does it need less of and why. There are many books and videos on this.

What can I do to make my 6-year-old eat more?

  • Even at this age, it is advisable to eat at least one meal together at the family table
  • It is generally recommended that they eat at the table
  • For a change, you can also have a picnic or something similar
  • Make sure your child sticks to the 5 meals a day and doesn’t always have food on hand.
  • Take your child shopping and let them choose
  • Cook together with your child, make them the “chef”
  • Don’t give up, always put everything on the plate that everyone else has
  • Let your child eat what other family members eat.
  • Create a pleasant atmosphere at the table
  • Arrange the food on a children’s plate or an adult’s plate, depending on your preference
  • Let your child choose the portion size themselves
  • Your child should not drink too much immediately before eating, but rather during and after eating
  • Regulated mealtimes are an advantage (I have summarized more about the advantages of habits and rituals for you here)
  • You should ignore your eating habits. Do not emphasize them by mentioning them frequently.

What NOT to do if your child doesn’t want to eat what’s on the table?

  • Don’t pressure your child
  • Don’t praise your child for eating
  • Don’t let your child play with the food at the table
  • Do not prepare extra meals for your child
  • Do not serve too large portions for your child
  • Don’t pay too much attention to food-related nagging, a quick “okay” is perfectly fine.
  • Don’t turn on the TV in the background during meals
  • Food should not be within reach at all times
  • Don’t judge and judge your child’s eating habits

Make food tasty for children playfully

  1. Make plates as colorful as possible 
    This is not only healthy but also very appealing and exciting for children to discover.
  2. Arrange plates so that animal shapes, faces, or other small figures can be discovered.
  3. Guessing game 
    Blindfold your child and let them taste and guess different foods. Of course, it’s even more interesting when these foods are cooked together at the same time.
  4. Assign Prepare small slips of paper with pictures, for example, super categories of food (vegetables, fruit, dairy product, grain, …) or where the food comes from (cow, grain, tree, chicken; …) or whatever you can think of, for what your groceries could be assigned. The notes can also be simply drawn. And then let your child match the different foods. Maybe you can let your child look for it in the pantry or the fridge. That arouses interest.
  5. Chef 
    Let your child put together a menu. Ask them what to cook today. Perhaps point out that everyone should enjoy it and that different foods should be included. So, when your child says “noodles,” ask what meat and vegetables they want to be included. Therefore, there is something in all the components that are important to you.
    If possible, go shopping with your child and examine the groceries carefully. Let your child choose which cucumber to use or whether this or that meat would go better with it. Be the assistant and your child the master chef. In my experience, children have a lot of fun, and surprising, interesting, and excellent combinations could be created. Tell your child this too and praise them for their work. 

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