Promoting Positive Mealtime Habits

Sep 30, 2022

For many parents, mealtime can seem like the ultimate battle. Your child just won’t eat the meal you’ve spent time preparing for them, wants to leave the table to go get another toy, or wants a sweet treat 10 minutes after they refused to eat their dinner. It can be tempting to engage in a power struggle, or resort to bribes. These methods may seem to get the job done in the moment, but can often lead to an even bigger struggle the next meal.

If you are getting flashbacks to the last epic meal time showdown, don’t fret. Here are a few strategies you can keep in your tool box to help transform your child’s mealtimes.

4 Tips for a successful mealtime routine!

First: Try to make meal time routine. Keep meals around regularly scheduled times. Your child should stay seated at the table (avoid grazing), and limit mealtimes to 20-30 minutes.

Second: Food should be neutral. Avoid offering food as a reward for behavior. Eating should not be an act that warrants your approval or disapproval. Do not comment on the amount of food they have eaten, or force them to eat just a little bit more.

Third: Aim to make meals pleasant. If a child has spent 15 minutes playing with, but not eating their food, you can remove it from the table rather than urge them to eat. If your child becomes frustrated and throws food from their highchair, it is ok to end mealtime. However, it is important for your child to be calm before being taken out of the highchair.

Finally: Try to relax, and remember that it is ok for a child to miss a meal once in a while if they simply will not eat.

Arvedson, J. C. (2016, September 23). Management of Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing [PowerPoint Presentation]. Practice and Patience, Strategies to address Feeding Problems in Early Childhood, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.