Help! My toddler won’t eat meat!

When your toddler decides a whole section of the food pyramid (if your family isn’t that into legume and imitation meat protein sources), it can really mess with your mealtime system.

Protein is a big part of many families’ balanced diets, but it’s perfectly possible for most people to get complete nutrition without eating meat. There are plenty of ways to try to coax your little one back to your family’s normal diet, but if you’d rather let him decide when or if he’s ready to eat meat again, it’s important to make sure that he’s getting all the nutrients he would be getting from meat from another source.

  • Protein: An essential component in the growth of bones and muscles, is also found in whole grains and legumes like beans.
  • Riboflavin: Helps build new cells, keeps cells healthy, and improves metabolism, and is found in meat as well as yogurt, mushrooms, spinach, almonds, and other foods.
  • Thiamin: Necessary for brain development as well as the proper functioning of the heart and the nervous system. It can be found in meat sources as well as eggs, yogurt, nuts, seeds, and soy products.
  • Niacin: Responsible for converting glucose into energy. Apart from meat products, niacin can be found in avocados, potatoes, mushrooms, peanuts, and some legumes.
  • Vitamin D: a key component in regulating body processes, specifically bone development, Vitamin D can be found in fortified milk, fortified cereals, fortified yogurt or juice, or naturally in almonds or oatmeal.

If you’re still hoping Baby can be persuaded to get all of these nutrients from meat, there are a few different strategies you can try.

Make the food appealing

Presentation may not be everything, but it does play a big part in many children’s decision-making process about what they’ll eat. Sight is one of the five senses that will make your child embrace or ignore a certain dish, but that doesn’t mean you need to do anything over-the-top. Adding different colors to the dish, molding it to various shapes, or serving it on a cartoon character-printed plate can all make a difference.

Trim down the serving size

It is not uncommon for a child’s appetite to slow down during the toddler years, and meat can actually feel tiring for little mouths that are still getting used to chewing. These two things mean that serving Baby a hearty serving of meat as soon as he sits down to eat might be intimidating him out of eating any at all.

Instead, offering smaller portions, and portions that are cut into smaller pieces, and even mixed into other dishes, may be the best way to convince Baby that meat isn’t so bad. Strategies like this don’t have to last forever and can help to build a toddler’s appetite for meat until he’s really enjoying it, and may be ready for more.

Offer choices

Toddlers are like anyone else – they have tastes and interests, and they don’t like feeling like they have no control over what they eat. If Baby is acting reluctant to eat any animal proteins you put on his plate, giving him a choice of which one, with the understanding that if he gets to pick, he is going to try a bite of the one he chose.

Offering him two clearly-defined choices for his protein source at dinner gives him a sense of control without overwhelming him, or making more work for you.

Finger foods

Toddlers are more likely to eat things they can feed themselves, and feed themselves easily, so offering meat as finger foods can help take out some of the frustration factors.

The most important thing, at this point, is that Baby gets a healthy, balanced diet and that the two of you don’t fall into the habit of having power-struggles over food. Achieving these goals may mean being a little flexible during the toddler years, but the healthy eating habits you help Baby establish now will have an effect on the way he eats for the rest of his life.


  • “Serving sizes for toddlers.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, March 7 2017. Retrieved January 30 2018.
  • “Tips for preventing food hassles.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved January 30 2018. 
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