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What to Do If Your Toddler is Refusing to Eat Anything But Milk

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If your toddler is refusing to eat anything but milk, you’re probably feeling frustrated! Too much milk can make picky eating worse, so I’ll show you step-by-step how to help your child eat more foods.

“I want milk!” Your toddler is screaming for milk for the 4th time today and you are concerned they aren’t getting enough other things. You’re feeling defeated because your toddler is refusing to eat anything but milk and wondering how in the world you are supposed to get them to actually start eating more foods. You’re not alone though, this is a common problem.

Too much milk can make things tricky down the road, so helping your child drink milk in moderation is so important. I’ll show you how to turn things around.

When Toddlers Refusing to Eat Anything But Milk, Picky Eating Gets Worse

Milk is just so so so easy to drink! We don’t realize that eating requires a lot of energy and concentration from a child. All of that chewing and swallowing stuff takes it out of them. Toddlers are smart and they are efficient when it comes to eating. In fact, some toddlers realize that it’s a lot easier to drink their food than eat their food.

Next thing you know, your toddler is drinking milk instead of eating food! Your child would rather do the easy thing and drink milk throughout the day. If we cater to this desire, our child starts becoming exposed to other foods less and less. They start to become more picky and refuse more and more foods until they are refusing anything but milk.

FREE picky eater guide: From Stress to Success: 4 Ways to Help Your Child Eat Better Without Losing Your Mind

How Picky Eating Comes From Drinking Too Much Milk

There are a whole list of reasons why toddlers become picky eaters. One is being exposed to less and less foods. If a child never sees a food, they will never eat a food. Especially for a child who really doesn’t want to eat, the less they see solid foods, the less they will eat them.

If your child never sees steamed carrots, for example, they won’t be able to eat them. Then, the next time they see the steamed carrots, they will ask for milk, because they know what milk tastes like, they know they won’t have to chew it, and they aren’t sure what they are going to get with those carrots. They may even afraid of those carrots.

The longer a child does not see foods they are afraid of, the more afraid of them they become. Then, they will ask for their familiar and favorite food – milk. In fact, your toddler can very easily get to the point where they are refusing to eat anything but milk.

Read More: Have a 2-year-old Picky Eater? It May Not Be Your Fault

How Parents Help Toddlers Refuse to Eat Anything But Milk

Believe me, I totally get the struggle. It’s not like it’s easy to change a toddler’s decision to only want to drink milk.

Here’s the scenario that I often see. Mom makes dinner and puts it on the table. She brings the toddler to the table to eat lunch. The child refuses to eat anything and starts fussing. Next the child starts demanding milk. Half way into the meal, mom starts getting worried that the child is not eating anything at all that really needs to eat something to get them through the day. Finally, toward the end of the meal, she caves and brings out the milk so that the child at least gets “something” to eat.

It’s so understandable to see why parents do this and why it makes sense for them. The thing is, your toddler knows that if they refuse to eat anything but milk, you will rescue them with a cup of milk!

It doesn’t have to be like this though. I’ll show you how you can be lovingly attentive to your child and their needs and also stand firm on how much milk you give them to drink.

Text that reads: I serve dinner. Child Screams "I want milk." I can say "Thats not on the menu." 

Quote shows that staying firm on meal time rules helps a toddler that is refusing to eat anything but milk

Read more: The One Thing You Need to Know About Feeding Toddlers

Important Limits to How Much Milk Your Toddler Drinks

Drinking too much milk can lead to picky eating, as we already discussed. It can also lead to iron-deficiency anemia. It is important to limit a toddler’s milk to 2 cups per day or 16 ounces.

When it comes to dairy, toddlers do not need more than 2-3 servings per day total. That includes cheese, yogurt, milk, and all forms of dairy. A cup of milk is one serving for a toddler. So, 2 cups of milk is basically all the dairy that they need in a day.

Milk is not a good source of iron. The more milk kids drink, the less room they have for foods that are good sources of iron. Additionally, the calcium and casein protein in milk make it a little harder for the body to absorb iron. Combine all that with increased selectiveness and picky eating and toddler’s iron levels start to drop when they drink a lot of milk.

Six plates of iron rich food combinations that promote iron absorption for toddlers who refuse to eat anything but milk

Read more: Find more meal ideas in my Real Easy Weekdays Menu Plan

How to Limit Milk When Your Toddler is Refusing to Eat Anything But Milk

As the parent you can limit your child’s milk intake. In fact, for their health, it’s important that you do that! Here’s how.

First, remember, as the parent, you are in charge of when meals and snacks are served and you are in charge of what is served for meals and snacks. Your child is in charge of whether to eat and how much during a meal.

Next, make sure you have a meal and sit-down snack routine. In between meals serve only water. Milk should only be served with meals and snacks. I recommend no more than 3 meals and 1-3 snacks per day max. A bottle or cup of milk before bedtime counts as a snack.

After you’ve established your routine, only make milk available at certain times. You can explain to your child “Milk at breakfast, milk at dinner.” I recommend serving milk once a day and letting them drink as much as they want, and then serving it a second time if they only drink about 8 ounces the first time. You may also choose to serve it with all the main meals or some other combination. What’s important is that milk is not served with every meal and snack, and you don’t give them more than 16 ounces.

If your child does reach the point where they have reached 16 ounces for the day, you can say, “There’s no more milk available now, we’ll have more tomorrow.” Empathize with them and understand how frustrating this is for them. This is a really big deal to them! Their favorite food is now gone for the rest of the day. Stay close, even if they are having a tantrum and remind them that more milk will be available tomorrow.

Read more: 5 Secrets for Turning Any Meal Into a Meal Your Toddler Will Eat!

Do Toddlers HAVE to Drink Milk?

It’s important to note that your child doesn’t HAVE to drink milk and if they do drink milk, they don’t HAVE to drink 2 cups per day. We just need to make sure they get adequate fat and protein in their diets. We’re here talking about toddlers who are refusing to eat anything but milk though, so that’s probably not your burning question.

Once you, the parent, are in charge of how much milk is served, you can start to serve other foods during meals when milk is not available. As your child is exposed to other foods more and more, they will slowly learn to like more foods and be less dependent on milk.

Jennifer Anderson

Jennifer Anderson is a registered dietitian with a masters of science in public health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is the founder and CEO of Kids Eat In Color - the world’s leading resource for helping get kids on the path to eating better without the mealtime battles.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Katarina Beer-Riley

    Hi there, does what you’ve discussed also apply if it’s formula milk? That has more vitamins and nutrients in it, right?

    1. Abby B

      Yes, Most research says that it is too low in fat and some other nutrients which is vital in this stage in your child’s development. A well balance of different foods can help insure healthy development.

  2. Jen

    This is so helpful thank you! I was wondering, do bovine milk alternatives also cause iron malabsorption?

  3. Chrisitna

    If you take the milk away, how do you get them to eat food? My kid just gets fussy.

    1. Nisha

      Same and mine vomits out everything even if a grain touches his tongue

    2. Evelen

      Exactly ! All these blogs just point out the obvious, give less milk, but they never offer a solution to actually get the child to eat food.

    3. Mandeep k Dhaliwal

      Same with my child

  4. Anne-Marie

    What about a breastfed toddler – my little one keeps demanding a breastfeed during meals. Gets very upset when I say she can have it later and then that spells the end of the meal anyway 🙁

    1. Diona

      This is the same problem I’m having. I pump milk around the clock. She eats food sometimes, mostly carbs. I offer her carrots, spinach, bananas you name it. All she wants is breast milk.

  5. Zaneta

    Im worried about my son’s weight. He refuse to eat, than 5 minutes later he’s asking for milk. He eat just a little amount of food, so asume that he’s still hungry but dind’t like the food that I made. If I refuse to give him milk, Im afraid it will make him hungry after the next meal time. He didn’t stop asking for milk tho.

  6. Nicole

    My son drinks wayyyy to much milk and I can’t get him to eat much he eats a couple bites and start to play and throws out his own food. Yet he drinks 2-3 sometimes 4 bottles to the top of milk. When I say no more milk is a huge tantrum that won’t ever end. What can I do?!?!?!?!

  7. Jason

    This is a perfect article for the “model” child. My 2.5 year old will refuse to eat solids for hours until he gets milk. The tantrums aren’t the problem, he literally will hold out and refuse to eat or drink anything for more than half-a-day until he gets the milk he wants. I’d love to hear how to deal with those types of children. If tantrums was my only problem, I’d be very happy, but I’m worried about my child’s caloric intake. He’s stubborn just like his father!

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