8 Tips to Support a Positive Mealtime Environment
by Kaileigh Nall, CCC-SLP
Kids Place North Speech and Feeding Therapist
Are mealtimes stressful at your home? Here are 8 tips to help support a positive mealtime environment for the whole family!
1. Involve your child in food preparation and clean up.
Parents can do this by having the child pick out the food at the grocery store, helping in the kitchen, setting the table, serving the food, and cleaning the dishes. This provides an opportunity for the child to interact with new foods without the pressure of eating. It also helps them to develop an individual role in family mealtime that makes them feel included and special.
2. Try not to comment on the amount of food that your child is eating or not eating.
This adds more pressure to the consumption of food.
3. Offer a small amount of dessert WITH dinner.
This one might sound crazy; however, this helps to avoid the association that one food holds more value than another. After all, food is food! Gone are the days where grandma says “Take three more bites and then you can have dessert”. We want children to develop an intrinsic motivation to try new foods as opposed to eating it as a result of external pressure.
4. Model eating new foods yourself.
Children look up to their parents and are more likely to try a food if they see their parents enjoying the food. Family mealtimes are motivating to try new foods.
5. Never force the child to eat food.
Meals should be in a neutral atmosphere.
6. Talk about how your body feels before eating versus after eating.
This helps the child develop an awareness of hungry versus full. This will support intuitive eating, we want to move away from the idea of “finishing everything on your plate before you leave the table.” It is normal for appetites to fluctuate along with the amount of food we eat.
7. Make mealtime as fun as possible.
Family mealtimes are a beautiful way to connect with those you love. You can talk about the best part of your day, use fun swirly straws in your drinks or animal toothpicks to pick up your food. Get creative!
8. Family mealtime does not have to be sitting at a table at home.
The most important thing is that you are together! Here are some other locations where family meals can take place: at a park, fast food restaurant, in a parked car while waiting for soccer practice or sitting on a bench after school.
Try these tips at home to encourage your child to try new foods, listen to their body while eating, and engage in connection over family mealtime. If you have concerns about your child’s eating habits, feel free to reach out to Kids Place Pediatric Therapy. We have Feeding and Occupational Therapists that are here to help!