Skip to content

My Toddler Won’t Eat Dinner, but Wants Snacks?

toddler won't eat dinner but wants snacks

It can be quite frustrating as a parent when your toddler refuses to eat dinner. It’s even more frustrating when the same toddler wants snacks. Snacks instead of dinner? Not where I grew up.

From a nutritional standpoint, we wonder the toddler getting proper nutrition? Well, not if dinner is being replaced with snacks.

Your toddler is very busy learning everything about the world around them. They are also learning about control to some extent over parts of their lives. They don’t control very much, but eating is probably the first control they will learn how to master.

We can, however, limit their power by offering certain freedom when choosing and eating food. A parent needs to provide a menu that an active toddler can benefit from. Armed with a bit of nutritional savvy, a parent decides what the toddler eats-or if they eat all. The parent may steer the toddler to a healthy way of eating, all while being crafty about it.

You have to be teaching what behaviors get a positive outcome and which ones don’t. Look at these ways to get your toddler into healthy eating habits.

All toddlers are very picky.

Toddlers begin to show their independent side with eating or not eating. If your toddler doesn’t like what you give them to eat, you will see the independence. We don’t eat what we don’t like, right?

If you can’t get your toddler to eat anything, one option may be to give them snacks. You may relieve your worries, but in the long run, you are giving in to their demands. Perhaps over time, the repeated snack giving may even start to lose its appeal to the child. But don’t rely on the child to stop wanting snacks.

The parent needs to be the one choosing what the toddler eats. And the parent does not need to give in to a snack routine. Introduce them to the new food. Try giving them something you enjoyed as a child. But don’t rely on the gene pool wining out.

Most of these picky food episodes won’t last if we don’t give in to their demands. Your toddler won’t starve; they will learn to be flexible instead of hungry. Serve up some small portions and encourage rather than nag.

You are the parent. Set the example. Show them how much you enjoy the food you eat and eat the same food as them. Toddlers especially love to imitate their parents, let them do so by loving what you eat.

You can’t sell good eating habits.

Your toddler is throwing a tantrum because you put something on their plate they didn’t want. You change into a salesperson. “If you eat this spinach, I will give you some ice cream!”These tactics are not going to accomplish but one purpose. It reinforces the fact you can be bought. You may do more harm than good, trying to buy some good eating habits.

It won’t take long for your child to begin negotiations at the dinner table. Parents have often used the mouth-watering dessert as an incentive to get their child to eat. The only accomplishment here is you are telling them sweets are more important than meals.

Cookies and snacks are not necessary to a toddler’s diet, and not giving them snacks at all will not deprive them. And should you threaten punishment, that isn’t effective either. Now you have a power struggle between toddler and parent.

Also, try to keep the mood enjoyable at mealtime. A child responds better if their mood is uplifted with love and emotional support.

Listen to what your toddler is saying.

Listen closely to your toddler. How do you listen to someone who is just learning to talk? Through their actions. If you have a toddler throwing peas on the floor or constructing something with food, it could mean they are simply not hungry.

You don’t want to make a toddler eat when they aren’t ready to. It may lead to them not knowing when they are full and cause further problems.

So be very careful when you do give snacks. Kids who eat all day, both snacks and meals might not learn what it’s like to be full or hungry. Structured meals are the key.

If your toddler constantly wants snacks, again listen. It might be their way of telling you they are not getting enough during mealtime. Listen (watch) and learn what they are saying.

Don’t offer snacks in the first place.

A growing child needs proper food to be healthy and strong. Cliche, I know. But things like candy, potato chips, sodas, and other “junk food” have little to no nutritional value. So why not just avoid them altogether?

How do you do it when those types of food are everywhere? That’s just it. They are everywhere. But you do not have to provide them at all in your house. Keep plenty of fruit and other healthy snacks. Hopefully, they never develop a taste for “junk food.”

Let your toddler feed himself.

Start giving finger type foods around 8 to 9 months. From there, introduce basic utensils. They should be quite adept at using them by 15 to 18 months. Provide them with many different opportunities and ensure they have enough, so they don’t get frustrated.

It’s also important to allow them freedom when they feed themselves. It will help them to learn the internal clues telling them when to eat. And the proper mechanics of how to eat.


Hopefully, you are a bit more aware of the potential effects of how giving in to snacks affects your toddler. The behaviors developed as a toddler are some of the most important ones in life.

By learning how we as parents can develop these childhood behaviors are some great ways to promote healthy eating habits for their entire life.

We don’t have all the answers. But we can be better informed and, of course, always ready to shower them with love and support.

1 thought on “My Toddler Won’t Eat Dinner, but Wants Snacks?”

  1. If your baby won’t sleep, check out the sleep method from – Thank you SleepBaby for this brilliant method! My daughter now sleeps from 7pm to 6 or 6:30am every night with almost no night wakings. And even if she wakes, it’s usually just for a second and then she falls back asleep all on her own.

    Most nights I get my 8 hours of sleep and it’s just wonderful! I really feel like I understand her little body and mind and can address her sleeping holistically. I can’t thank you enough, Kacey and the team!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.