Having a constipated toddler is not a fun thing to experience, yet it is one of the most common issues in the early years. Because of this, parents are often asking me for recipes for constipation in toddlers.
Generally, I like to keep things as easy as possible for parents, so complicated recipes are not my style. But there are a few things I have found work really well for my clients (and my own kids too) so I’ll share my best “recipe” ideas below.
Before we get into the recipes, I think it is important to understand why toddlers get so constipated. This will help with the frustration level and also know how to help prevent constipation going forward.
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Why do toddlers get so constipated?
There are many different reasons your toddler might be constipated but the most common reasons are:
- Changes in their diet (primarily fiber/fluid)
- Lack of movement (screen time/tablets/phones have made this worse)
- Potty training
- Other, health-related reasons (important to discuss with your pediatrician)
My experience as a pediatric dietitian (and mom) has shown me that the majority of the time when a toddler is constipated it is related to their food, with a few other things mixed in. There are a number of natural remedies for constipation that can be tried first, but occasionally medication management is needed.
The toddler years are fun in a lot of ways but they are also really hard when it comes to feeding kids. Your toddler has a lot of opinions that they are just learning they can express and it often comes off as picky eating and food refusal. While annoying, this is all very normal toddler behavior.
Their growth is also slowing which usually shows up in the form of a lower appetite, picky eating, and eating less in general. So, if you find your toddler not eating much, getting a good plan in place will help and can potentially prevent additional bouts of constipation going forward.
Top foods for constipation in toddlers
When it comes to feeding toddlers who are struggling to poop it’s important to find a good combination of the foods they need and the foods they will actually eat. Luckily, most toddlers like fruit which contains fiber and fluid, both key for constipation. Research shows that certain fruits, particularly fruits containing higher levels of sorbitol, are particularly helpful for constipation.
- Pears, prunes & apple Juice: these have higher levels of sorbitol and nonabsorbable carbohydrates which help increase the water content and frequency of bowel movements.
- Other Fruit: Really any fruit your toddler will eat (besides green/under-ripe bananas) will help. Keep in mind that while apple juice helps constipation, applesauce could make it worse. Applesauce has higher levels of pectin which actually helps to bulk the stool. Keep the applesauce on hand for the times your toddler is having diarrhea.
- Fiber: fiber is one of the keys to pooping regularly. Fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, whole grain breakfast cereals and crackers, and other grains in their whole form.
- Fluid: toddlers need enough fluid to help food pass through the gut during digestion. Increasing fiber without having enough fluid can make constipation worse. Most of their fluid should come from water, but some fruit juice and milk are okay too. Limit animal milk to help with constipation.
- Beans, lentils, and legumes: these are not the most popular toddler foods, but they do help keep things moving because of their fiber content. If your toddler isn’t a bean fan, find some recipes you can incorporate beans into. This white bean muffin recipe has been a favorite for both of my kids
3 Easy recipes for constipation in toddlers
You have probably heard that prune juice is good for constipation. While prune juice is great, my experience working with kids has shown me that drinking straight-up prune juice doesn’t usually go so well.
In order for a recipe to work, your toddler has to actually consume it. So I want to share a few of my favorite recipes for constipation in toddlers that they will actually eat!
- Prune paste: soak 8 oz of pitted prunes in ¼ cup of warm water for 10 min. Add to a food processor and blend. Use the prune paste as a spread on whole wheat toast, mixed into warm oatmeal as a sweetener, or in energy bites as a snack. Adding the prune paste to other whole grain food sources also increases fiber which can further help with constipation. Prune paste is great because it is naturally sweet and safe for toddlers to eat.
- Pear Nectar: peel and core pears (as many as you want) and add to a saucepan just covered with water. Bring to a boil until pears are fork tender. Add a squirt of lemon juice and blend until smooth in a food processor (with the water). Optional-to also adds a small amount of sugar based on sweetness preference. Serve as is or use in smoothies. To make things even easier, you can just buy pear nectar! I like this one because it doesn’t have any added sugar.
- Constipation Smoothie: Mix 1 cup pear nectar, 1 cup berries (blueberries or strawberries work great), ½ cup spinach (optional–if your little one freaks over greens you can leave this out.) 1 Tbsp. ground flax. Blend with some ice for a chilled smoothie.
Foods to limit with a constipated toddler
We can’t talk about constipation without talking about what foods might make it worse. Unfortunately, many of your toddler’s favorite foods could be making their constipation worse–aren’t toddlers funny like that?
You don’t have to cut all of these things out, but in an effort to help their constipation, be sure to serve these items alongside the ones we discussed that are helpful.
- White bread, muffins, rolls: any grain that is made with refined/enriched flour and not the whole grain or whole wheat source. These are lower in fiber and thus can cause them to get more bound up
- Regular pancakes/waffles: again, the regular white brands don’t contain fiber
- Cookies, animal crackers, graham crackers: these usually have high added sugar and are made with refined flour which is low in fiber
- Chips, crackers, goldfish crackers
- Green/unripe bananas-stick to ones that are ripe/browning
- Pizza-white crust and cheese might make constipation worse
- Milk-some milk is ok, but too much milk can be tummy trouble. Keep your toddler under 16 oz per day and during bouts of constipation, you might consider cutting milk out and offering more yogurt with active cultures which contain probiotics that can help.
If your constipated toddler is a picky eater
As I mentioned above, picky eating is super common in the toddler years. If their picky eating is making it difficult to get in the foods they need to help with their constipation, meet them where they are at. Choose foods that align with their preferences.
- For toddlers who like chewy foods: try dried fruits like raisins, dried apricots, prunes, dried apple rings, etc. be sure to cut them safely so they are not a choking hazard.
- If they like crunchy foods: try dehydrated fruits like strawberries & blueberries (found at a variety of stores) or veggies like snap pea crisps or crunchy chickpeas.
- When they love pouches or applesauce: look for pouches that contain a combo of fruits and veggies and are higher in fiber. I love these from pumpkin tree and peter rabbit, GoGo squeeze also makes some good toddler-friendly pouch options.
- For the muffin/pancake-loving toddler: make a version with whole grain flour, added ground flax, beans, or shredded veggies.
- If they like pasta: swap all or some of their plain white pasta for a whole grain or a legume-based version. If they are very sensitive to changes make the change very small to start and work up. Then maintain the higher fiber version.
Toddler constipation massage
In addition to changes in their food, one thing I have found to be very effective for gas and constipation in my own kids and clients is a belly massage. I started doing this with my daughter when she was a toddler and she continues to ask me to “rub her belly” whenever she gets gassy. It really works like magic to release gas and help move things through.
Have them lay on their back on the ground or bed and using your hand rub slowly while pressing in a clockwise direction around their belly. Rub it a few times and then gently take their legs, and move them like they are riding a bike. Then gently press their knees in and out to their belly.
I like to repeat this whole process several times. My daughter thinks its really funny because it almost always releases gas. Be prepared 🙂
Having a constipated toddler can be stressful, but there are many things you can do to help them poop naturally. Because of their age, picky eating is common and normal, so meet them where they are. Find the foods that will both help their constipation and that they are willing to eat.
Use the above recipes for constipation in toddlers to help them go, and focus on the specific foods that help relieve constipation. Try to avoid excessive intake of foods that might make constipation worse.
Sometimes, despite your best effort to change their food, fluid, and activity, many toddlers continue to have constipation and may need medication intervention. If that happens know that it is OK and not your fault.
While we always prefer to intervene without medication if possible, medications such as Miralax are common and have been shown to be safe and effective for use in kids when used appropriately. Be sure to talk with their pediatrician to get a good plan in place for starting and stopping medications.
I hope this post was helpful. If you find you have tried these things and are still struggling with constipation, be sure to check in with your child’s pediatrician to rule out any other reasons behind constipation.
Working 1:1 with a pediatric dietitian can also be really helpful to give more personalized ideas and suggestions based on what your toddler is willing to eat. If you have questions, feel free to comment below or schedule an appointment with me for more personalized support.
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