So your toddler used to eat pretty much everything and has suddenly become that picky kid you dreaded. Even though you probably already know- this is completely NORMAL. It's a phase that goes away if you avoid creating more bad habits along the way.
Here are some reasons why toddlers stop eating well and what you can do about it:
Early Signs of Sickness
Yep, this is a common one. Sudden loss in appetite can often be the early warning signs to a cold or flu. Check for other symptoms like exhaustion (and irritability).
Development and Distraction
The two D's! Your kid is learning something new everyday. They are suddenly seeing the world differently. Able to reach light switches and doorknobs, discovering body parts and bodily functions. Yes, oh yes, they've got stuff to do and food to them is boring in comparison. Resist the temptation to short order cook, i.e. don't make them mac and cheese while the rest of your family eats chicken with rice. Keep meals low pressure- when they're hungry, they'll eat.
These tiny intelligent tots are realizing that mealtimes can be a total power play. They may be vying for your attention at this time, and find that they get more of it if they act up or refuse food. The best thing you can do in this situation is to be present and engaging with your child during this time. Give tons of positive praise. "Hey look at you eating with your fork!" "You tried something new!" Even include them in the prepping of the meal. Have them help cook, stir, rinse, set the table. This may feel challenging but it will make them much more interested in eating and give you both bonding time.
This often happens during the summer or holidays. Life gets busy and before we know it consistent dinner times have become erratic, the TV gets left on or we are regularly eating over at a friend's house. Before you know it, you realize that you aren't setting your toddler up for success. And sometimes it's completely unavoidable. When you know that the house will be full of out of town family members or that you are traveling, try to keep the rest of their schedule as consistent as possible. Often when bath and bedtimes are consistent so is appetite. If it's the holidays take a good look at what your child is eating, may be that they are getting lots of special treats from relatives and friends and have no appetite for nutrient dense foods.
This is a common problem for most people. Observe how many snacks your child is given a day and how close to mealtimes they are given. This could be the direct cause of lack of appetite during meals. If the snacks are processed, refined or sugar filled, toddlers will get a taste for (aka addicted to) high fat/sugar/salt foods and snub their noses at fresh healthy ones. Fruit, nuts and cheese make great on the go snacks that fill bellies and keep energy levels up.
Short Order Cooking
We've all done it. Made a separate meal for our kids because they might not like what we adults are having, or because we're ordering take out after they hit the hay. Maybe it's gotten out of hand and you've suddenly noticed yourself making 'toddler' meals for you littles every night. Before you know it they're exclusively eating mac and cheese and pb&j. Or maybe you've always cooked a separate meal because you tried introducing your little ones to food and it hasn't gone well. A couple nights of short order cooking can quickly turn any toddler into a demanding customer. They know that they can have something other than what's offered and will bat their eye lashes or refuse a meal to get what they want. Luckily kids are extremely adaptable. Have them help you cook the family meal, include them in the prep work. Kids are more willing to eat food they've had a hand in making.