By the age of 3 years old, toddlers are more sensitive to environmental triggers that indicate it’s time to eat.
These triggers can include caregiver cues to eat more or less, food taste and appearance, and other environmental cues. This is different from infancy when young children are “deprivation driven,” meaning they seek food, eat, and stop until hunger returns.
Make sure you’re not pushing your toddler to eat more than she wants to eat, stopping too early, or exposing her to excess sweets and fried foods. The best thing you can do is follow her lead with eating, keep it mostly nutritious (and delicious) while staying on a structure of regular meals and snacks so she has five to six opportunities to eat during the day.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020
it’s typical for toddlers at the end of the day to not be hungry, as many have met their nutritional needs throughout the day. You may want to consider putting firmer boundaries in place with snacking as it can become an unhealthy habit down the road. I always kept to a schedule with meals and snacks, even pointing out the time on the clock and saying, “nope, it’s not time for snack yet. When it’s 3 o’clock we can have our afternoon snack.” Also, make sure snacks are nutritious, almost like mini-meals, so they are filling and cover the appetite for 2-3 hours.
I notice that my 3 year old wants to eat more when we are at home. When we are out and about she’s perfectly fine. I think in many cases it is simply boredom, but I do my best to limit her snacks and make sure she’s eating as healthy as possible (most of the time). 😉
My 2.5 year old still wants to snack all of the time throughout the day but I have noticed that she doesn’t want to eat as much at dinner. I look forward to the day when she stops snacking so much because she wipes the pantry and refrigerator clean and I seem to be at the grocery store just about every two to three days!