Fostering a Positive Relationship with Mealtimes - The Children's House

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Fostering a Positive Relationship with Mealtimes

by Annie Botsford
Thursday, May 2, 2024

If you have spent any time with small children, you have likely experienced a not-so-pleasant mealtime. Perhaps your child refused to eat, threw food, or completely melted down at the table. Mealtimes can be stressful and overwhelming. While I don’t expect this blog post to eliminate power struggles at the table, I do think there are a few things to implement that can support your child’s relationship with food and improve your family’s experience around mealtimes.


For starters, less is more. Children are often overwhelmed by large portions of food. When plating your child's meal, start with just a few items. A single carrot, a small scoop of pasta, and a few berries can go a long way. With these smaller quantities, your child is more likely to finish a part or all of the meal and ask for more. Not only does this method help with overwhelm, but it also sets your child up for success. 

Try to include something in each meal that you know your child likes. They don’t have to like all of the parts, but at least one item should be “safe” and appealing to them. They might start by eating this familiar food and then branch out to the other items on their plate. 

Eat with your child; as with anything, children love to imitate the adults around them. If you are eating the same food, they are much more likely to give it a try. It is also important to eat at the same place as your child – whether you sit at a low table with child-sized seating, or bring your child up to an adult-sized table with a Tripp Trapp Chair or something similar. 

Avoid attaching morality to food. Food serves many different purposes; a source of energy, comfort, celebration, and a reason to gather. While not all food supplies the same amount or kind of nutrition, all food has value. For this reason, avoid labeling things as “good” and “bad”. This does not mean that you should not provide a well-rounded diet for your child, but you should abstain from creating feelings of shame or guilt around food/eating. Remember, your child has a much stronger sense of intuition than you and me. As adults, we have been swayed by judgments and messages in our environment. It is our job to protect the pure, intrinsic drive of the child while providing them with a variety of flavors and experiences. 

Involve your child in the before and after parts of mealtime. With proper child-sized and child-safe tools, they can help chop, stir, peel, etc. Your child can also help set the table, clear the table, and wash dishes. This involvement will help your child feel like a valued member of the family and will increase the likelihood of them being excited about the meal. Having a routine before and after eating also helps your child know what to expect, and young children thrive off of predictability. 

Gathering around food is such a universal experience. So much beauty can come from these moments together: the start of a conversation, the shared enjoyment of a flavorful bite. These good feelings around food and eating start from the day your child is born – beginning with the eye contact and comfort they experience when being breast/bottle fed. Take the time to connect during these moments and enjoy the abundance that food can bring to you and your child.