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Child Holding Food in Mouth


2 year old with holding food in mouth

I have a 2 year old child who has begun holding food in her mouth when she doesn't want to eat what I've given her. I’m not sure how to handle the situation and it's happening more often. Is disciplining her appropriate?

The eating habits of two years frustrate the best of parents. Most two year olds have little caloric need and seeming unlimited energy.

When presented with food, two year olds often refuse to eat. When pressed, many will throw tantrums, food and dishes. Toddlers find ways to get their parents' attention.

In your daughter’s case, she holds food in her mouth to show you she does not want to eat. She is doing this to get noticed and it seems like she has your full attention. If she senses that this behavior upsets you, you will see more of this behavior.

When feeding a 2 year old, your job is to present her with healthy choices and let her choose.

Parents often worry that their child will starve if they do not actively encourage them to eat. While I do not know your daughters individual case, 99% of 2 year olds will eat appropriately and grow well if left to regulate their intake.

Medical research shows that toddlers regulate their calories better than adults. Unlike adults, normal 2 year olds will seek just the calories they need. Most adults have been trained to over eat and typically eat more calories than they need.

Further research has looked at the different eating patterns in toddlers - Grazers (children that snack all day long) verses Meal Eaters (children who get most of their calories at 3 meals). These studies found that both sets of toddlers ingested the same amount of calories. However, the snackers tend to eat poor quality items(junk food).

What to do?

2 year olds should be fed a low fat diet loaded with fruits and vegetables. Offer your daughter three healthy meals and healthy snacks. At mealtimes she should be required to sit with the family for the duration of the meal. At our home, our 2 year old is buckled into place.

If she begins to hold the food in her mouth, take it as a sign she is finished. Let her know she does not have to eat it. You may even say “Oh I see you are all done”. Take her plate away from her and finish your meal. With consistency this behavior will end.

If you are worried about her nutritional intake or she has other health issues take her to your doctor.


Follow up 1 month later

We aren't having the problem with our daughter holding food in her mouth anymore since we've taken your advice & stopped trying to make her eat. We are still struggling with her pickiness though. Most nights she wont eat dinner because she doesn't want what we are eating. We have started giving her a cookie for dessert following dinner when she has eaten her plate but that enticement doesn't always work. Her weight is lower for her age group (which doesn't concern her pediatrician) but weighs heavily on me when she doesn't eat. She will eat extremely well during breakfast & lunch since we give her her "usuals" so I know she's probably getting her necessary caloric intake but somehow it doesn't make me feel better. Sorry for the long reply. I am still hopeful that eventually she will be less picky but am still waiting for the turning point. Is there anything else I should be or shouldn't be doing?
Thanks again for checking in! :)

My reply

It definitely sounds like you doing the right things and making progress. Hang in there! Its great that you are serving her healthy foods, eating as a family and setting a good example. If you are still worried about her caloric intake see you doctor and ask about her interval growth.



Written January 2011 by
Dr. Gordon, Orlando Pediatrician






gregorygordonmd.com is intended to help parents understand the needs and behaviors of children. The information presented in the site is the opinion of Gregory Gordon, M.D.and does not reflect the opinion of his partners. This website is owned exclusively by Doctors insights LLC. The advice in this site does not apply to all children. Always consult your healthcare provider for your individual needs.

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