The Top Ten Mealtime Do’s and Don’ts

If your mealtimes are anything but social and fun try some of these tips! I developed this list of mealtime do’s and don’ts so you can have enjoyable mealtimes.

1: Do turn off the TV and hang up the phone. Mealtimes should be happy and social times. Children should look forward to meals and not just for the food. They should also look forward to the company and conversation.

2: Do plan 3 meals and 2 snacks. Don’t allow grazing, because your child won’t learn what it means to be hungry which leads to more picky eating at mealtimes. A child who is not hungry is less likely to try new foods. Planned snacks are great times to get in the fruit and vegetables your children need.

3: Do have your children eat in their seats. Do not allow them to walk around the house with food. This is both a choking hazard and a bad habit. Children need to learn that eating takes place at the table in their chair. By doing this children learn when they are in their seat it is time to eat!

4: Do have family meals whenever possible. A family meal is different for everyone and can take place at any meal during the day. Family meals make mealtime special.

This could mean a father and a child, a mother and a child or a family of eight. Whatever it means to you, eat together as a family as much as possible.

5: Do not be a short order cook. Cook one meal for everyone. (Allergies and certain conditions may cause exceptions to this rule).

6: Don’t ever force feed. Negative experiences around mealtime can have long lasting effects.

7: Do serve and eat healthy foods. If you have a spouse who refuses to eat healthy, have him (or her) eat the unhealthy foods outside of the house. Children model their parent’s behavior.

8: Don’t deprive them. While feeding your children healthy at home, it is also important not to deprive them of treats in group situations. This will only create resentment and possibly cause later junk food binging.

9: Don’t bribe with dessert. Telling children that they must eat their broccoli before they get ice cream teaches them that broccoli is bad and ice cream is good.

Instead offer a healthy dessert such as fresh fruits and save ice cream for occasions outside of the house. The easiest way to keep your children from eating junk food is not to buy it.

Another tactic that I like when giving dessert is the “TV Dinner” mentality. Here is your dessert (a small portion), and you are free to eat it whenever you choose. Children may choose to eat it first, maybe at the same time or possibly save it for last. It does not need to matter.

Food tends to be categorized unnecessarily. It is ok to break from the norms.

10: Do re-introduce foods many times and do not make a big deal out of it when they do not eat it or like it.

My 1 year old decided to love broccoli on the 5th presentation. However I never discussed the fact that she didn’t like it therefore she never knew. (Yes I know she is kind of young to understand this however at a very early age children read their parents’ cues.)

If they want to try something they did not like the week before act as if they never refused it. You will be surprised what they decide they like.

Mealtimes should be fun and relatively stress free. Starting out right will make life easier for everyone however it is never too late to make changes.

(if your child is a problem or resistant eater you need to utilize the guidance of a qualified feeding therapist)

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Isa Marrs

Isa Marrs is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in articulation, pragmatic language and feeding disorders in children. Read More