I enjoy family dinners…but it hasn’t always been that way! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Susan True   


I enjoy family dinners…but it hasn’t always been that way. My kids were picky eaters and we would end up fighting over what they would eat.  I even made them each separate meals so they would eat something. I was stressed and wondering how much longer I would have to do this. Then I learned a few simple things from Triple P and now I make one nutritious meal that we all eat. Mealtimes have become a time to have conversations with my children instead of fighting with them”. Triple P Parent



Mealtimes can provide great opportunities for families to connect and enjoy each others’ company.  But if children have a difficult time with eating or they are not behaving well during meals, this time becomes a ‘battle’ for parents, who find themselves stressed out and frustrated.  Common mealtime problems include refusing to come to the table, leaving the table during the meals, complaining about the food, refusing to feed themselves, playing with food, and eating very slowly.


If you are a parent who experiences these challenges with your child, you are not alone! There are several steps that parents can take to encourage positive mealtime behaviors. Here are some things you can try right away.


Establishing a daily mealtime routine can be very helpful for children.  Serving three main meals and a morning and afternoon snack at regular times of the day will help your child separate mealtime and playtime. Also, setting a time limit for finishing up the meal, such as 20-30 minutes, and explaining that to your child ahead of time, will help keep him from getting bored and restless or disruptive.


Let your child know ahead of time when the meal will be ready. Giving your child a 5-10 minute time block to finish up their play will make it easier for them to come to the table.


Having everything prepared before seating your child at the table can prevent unnecessary waiting. Once he is seated at the table, remove any toys or other distractions.


Teaching new skills and recognizing your child’s accomplishments around meals will help him become a healthy independent eater. Mealtimes present an opportunity for children to learn new skills and to recognize your child’s growing competence. Model and Explain 1-2 mealtime skills that are important for your family.  These skills should tell your child what to do rather than be rules of what not to do. For example:


·       Eating with a spoon or fork


·       Participating in family conversations and mealtime games



·       Enjoying time at the table until the meal is over


·       Developing specific manners that are important to your family (chewing with the mouth closed)



·       Eating a variety of foods with different nutritional values


Parents may want to offer rewards for meal times that go smoothly. These rewards can be a special activity after mealtime or an extra bedtime story.  As your child masters new mealtime skills, you can add a few more skills that you want him to learn. It is important that children don’t become overwhelmed with too many new things at once and are given a chance to succeed. Pick your focus carefully and stick with it – without adding more – until the child succeeds.


It is common for mealtime problems to persist even when parents have tried these strategies. There are several other techniques to assist your child in developing good eating habits. Local accredited practitioners can assist in finding the best approach for your family.


Susan True is the Executive Director of First 5 Santa Cruz County. For more information about workshops (covering common issues such as independent eating and sleeping), groups, one on one consultations, or parenting seminars, please visit www.first5scc.org or contact Stephanie Bluford at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (831) 465-2217.


Last Updated on Monday, 05 March 2012 23:50
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