10 Tips If Your Toddler Won’t Eat at Daycare

It can be very frustrating when your toddler refuses to eat at daycare. Many things can make a toddler refuse to eat at daycare. When you find the root cause of why your toddler will not eat at daycare, you can start working on fixing the problem. He or she may be overwhelmed by things that may be distracting him or her that he or she may not want to eat. If it is their first week or a couple of weeks at the daycare, it is normal for your toddler to refuse to eat. Your child may need to build trust and get to know the staff and other children at the daycare before he or she can eat comfortably around them. Below are some helpful tips to help encourage your child to eat at daycare.

Do not force your baby to eat

If it is your toddler’s first day, week, or a couple of weeks at the daycare, they may need some time to adjust to their environment. In the beginning, there is nothing wrong with packing a lunch for your child. One ideal thing to do is to contact the daycare center and see what they are having for the week. By preparing the same lunch as the daycare does, will get your child use to eating what the other children are eating. This can gradually help your toddler become comfortable with eating food at and from the daycare.

Take some time to visit the daycare during lunchtime

Speak with your toddler’s daycare instructor or the administrator on duty and see if you can arrange to have lunch with your toddler and the rest of his or her class. Letting your child see how comfortable you are eating around their peers and other daycare staff, can encourage your child to do the same.

Trust your toddler to develop his or her eating self-regulation

Giving your toddler some space to choose what they eat ensures we will encourage children to select from the food provided. They should be able to make their own choice on how much they consume as much or as little as they choose. It is also okay to allow your toddler to refuse the foods they do not want to consume.

Speak with your daycare provider about snacks

Most daycare centers offer two snacks in between meals. If you feed your toddler a well-balanced meal for breakfast, it could be that the extra snack before lunch could reduce your toddler’s appetite causing them to refuse lunch. If your child attends daycare after school, maybe the snack before dinner could be reducing your toddler’s appetite. Whatever the case may be, you want to either feed your child a light breakfast, have your child eat breakfast at the daycare, or have the daycare hold snacks before meals. This will ensure that your child will be hungry enough to eat lunch or dinner.

Match feeding times at home with feeding times at the daycare

You want to keep your toddler’s feeding schedule the same regardless of where they are going to be eating. Having the same schedule at home as the daycare does, will not interfere with your child’s appetite and will encourage stay on this eating schedule even at daycare.

Speak to your daycare provider about alternative substitutions

Do not worry or force your toddler to eat a particular food they do not like. This is a great way to get your toddler involved in their affairs, and it lets them know that both you and the daycare staff care about their interaction and concerns. Have your child express what foods he or she does not like. Make a list of foods and communicate this with the daycare kitchen staff. It is a good idea to get a weekly menu of what the daycare will be serving. You can either ask them to offer a substitute for any foods your toddler will not eat or send some foods to replace what they do not eat for the week.

Make sure your child eats a well-balanced meal before sending them to daycare

You do not want to force-feed or allow anyone else to force-feed your child when they refuse to eat. Children can become stressed or upset about having to go to the daycare, having to deal with certain peers, or having to deal with keeping up with the rest of the class. Many factors can cause a toddler to lose their appetite, just as it does with adults. If your child is having a bad or emotional day, they can react to refusing meals. If your child is experiencing difficulties at the daycare, send a light snack, or comfort foods that can encourage them to cheer up. Take time to check on your child, and if available stop by and let them know everything is okay. It could be that they need a little extra assurance.

Call the daycare before mealtime and speak with your child

If you know your toddler is having trouble at the daycare during meal times, take time out to call them and encourage them to eat just before meals. Going over the menu with them and reminding them of how much they like a specific item on the menu can help them look forward to mealtime and encourage them to eat more, even if it’s just the things they like to eat.

Do not stress yourself or your toddler out about not eating

Always keep in mind that if your toddler is hungry enough they will not refuse meals or snacks. Maybe they feel uncomfortable eating around strangers in a strange setting. You can rest assured that once your toddler makes friends and gets to know everyone better, he or she will not have a problem eating when they are hungry.

Make sure your toddler is physically and emotionally feeling well

Sometimes not eating is a sign of physical discomfort, depression, or anxiety. Maybe your child is feeling some anxiousness having to adapt to new people, places, activities, and foods. They could be feeling down because they do not want to be away from their family or friends at home. Or it could be fearful butterflies in their stomachs having to talk and do things with people they have never seen before. Finding out the root of the lack of appetite can help you develop a plan to ensure your toddler that he or she is safe and can feel comfortable eating at daycare.

6 thoughts on “10 Tips If Your Toddler Won’t Eat at Daycare”

  1. The only place my toddler doesn’t eat is at the daycare!! Everywhere else, he eats perfectly fine. This makes me believe the problem is the daycare. They just fired one of their employees for biting a child. Someone please reply and help me… is the daycare 100% the problem if my toddler eats everywhere else EXCEPT there? Not to mention the biting incident… makes me wonder.

    1. Omg! Why would a daycare employee bite a child? Aren’t they supposed to be kind and warm towards them ;( do u mind telling where is this daycare located

      I’m looking for answers too my daughter doesn’t eat much at daycare . I sometimes feel she has inherited my anxiety prone personality

    2. I run an in-home daycare and not eating is actually pretty common. It has only happened once in my facility, but providers in my area have posted about it in our provider group and others have offered suggestions- so I know it is something that happens often (unfortunately so is young children making themselves throw up during meal times- which thankfully I haven’t run into yet). In my experience, the child was new and was homesick. She kept saying she liked the food, but she only ate it at home (which then made her realize that she missed home- even though she had been having a great day at daycare). I had mom pack a lunch (with her help) in the morning and while it took a few days, she did start to eat it, and then as she became more comfortable, she eventually ate the meals I provided.

      Not eating is common for plenty of reasons:
      1. The timing of meals is not what they are used to and it will take time to adjust to the daycare meal time schedule.
      2. The child may be homesick and will take a few weeks to become more comfortable (eating is a very vulnerable thing and one of the few times children feel they have some power over their lives- which sometimes manifests as a refusal to eat as a means to take control of the situation).
      3. The child may not feel well or may need to go to the bathroom (sometimes they try hold it in so they can go at home- which makes them feel ill- my daughter did that at her daycare until she became more comfortable there).
      4. The child may just not be hungry at that time.
      5. The child may not like the food.
      6. The child may be uncomfortable eating in front of others.

      …and I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons.

      You can do a few things to help the situation:
      1. Meet with the provider and go through the meals that will be served, see if they can offer options for the child to choose from (and gain back that control over their body that they crave).
      2. If the facility allows, pack a lunch (with the help of the child) that is healthy, but fun. My daughter loved when I’d use a fondant cutter to make little shapes out of her cucumbers.
      3. Make sure there isn’t an illness or digestive issue (when I was little I was lactose intolerant- which made breakfast especially hard due to the milk they served. I got sick after breakfast every day and eventually, I just stopped eating it. My family finally put two and two together by the time I was in 3rd grade, but it was too late for me for breakfast. I never ate that meal again and still don’t- my metabolism doesn’t kick start until later in the day). So make sure there isn’t a food allergy or digestive issue making that mealtime especially offputting for your child.

      Not eating at daycare doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong with the daycare, but the biting issue is a big deal. That is absolutely inappropriate and you need to report that to the Department of Social Services along with the facility license number immediately (in fact, the facility should have filed a report as well, if they have not that is a big issue).

      Good luck momma!

  2. My baby never slept well (especially through the night) until I started using the website SleepBaby.org – that website has been by far one of the best things I’ve ever got my hands on to get him to fall asleep quickly. Best time is 45 seconds from awake to asleep! Can’t imagine life without it! I heard about it through a kindergarten teacher who uses it to put to sleep a group of 30 children. Check it out! SLEEPBABY.ORG 🙂 Best of luck to you and your family!

  3. Ok, so I confronted the lady at my toddler’s daycare. I said, “listen. This is the only place that he doesn’t eat. Why?”

    She got nervous right away and immediately started looking away. I said, “no! Lady. Look at me. Tell me why my son isn’t eating here!”

    Instead of replying, she got the owner of the daycare. Fine. I’d take it up with her. Interestingly enough, she actually made me feel better about it all.

    She emailed me a sleep program with some information that I can use at home and see if it helps the daycare situation. I asked how the heck sleeping at home could be related to his diet at daycare.

    I don’t quite understand the logic, but I just thought I’d throw it out there that she recommended doing something about sleep at home. So, I’ll try that and see if it improves the daycare situation. Today will be our first night using that in our house, so I’ll report back and let ya’ll know how it goes.

    I sure hope it works because this not eating at daycare is getting real old. Real fast.

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