10 steps to a happier mealtime with kids

by beagooddad on August 14, 2006

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Mealtimes with kids can be rough if you forget how to keep things under control. Most of the best tricks involve getting everybody focused on eating and talking calmly. Here are ten keys that we focus on when the kids start to get a little out of control at mealtime.

  1. No toys or TV during the meal. Kids simply will not eat while playing with a toy or watching TV. They get way too stimulated to try and focus on green beans. Turning off the TV can cause its own chaos, so I recommend doing that 15-30 minutes before the meal. Let your kid place the toy he can not part with on the counter so he knows exactly where to find it when he is done eating.
  2. All for one and one for all. We all sat down at the table, we are all going to get up at the same time. No matter how quickly somebody “fills up,” they can sit at the table and talk or just listen. We started this when they were still in their booster seats. We had a couple weeks where they thought this was a dumb idea. Now that they are older, we very rarely struggle to keep them at the table and eating.
  3. Don’t cook to order. Beagoodmom, and sometimes even Beagooddad, spent time cooking this meal. We are not going to throw away the pork chops and vegies just so you can eat grilled cheese and apple sauce. If they choose not to eat this meal, I bet they will be a little more interested in the next. One thing you have to be careful with is you can not give them a huge snack because they skipped their lunch. Give them a normal snack and let the catch back up at dinner time.
  4. Let them set the table. Setting the table provides a transition from whatever activity they were working on and sitting down to eat. Kids also like to do grown up chores and setting the table is a pretty easy skill to learn. Start with plastic cups, plates, silverware to avoid injuries and broken dishes. If you have more than one kid, have one get all of the plates and the other get all of the cups, etc. Then they have to hand them out to their siblings which is good for learning to share and to play with others.
  5. Use utensils and cups as early as possible. We picked the Avent Trainer cups when they were young. The handles helped our kids learn to feed themselves at a young age. We let them use infant silverware as soon as they could hold them and they are now fork and spoon near experts. The less time you spend shoveling food into their mouth, the more time you can spend enjoying your meal and interacting with the family.
  6. What’s good for the dad is good for the kids. Eat the same thing the kids eat. If you expect them to eat carrots, put some carrots on your plate…and eat them. If you don’t want them to eat Cheetos at dinner, don’t put Cheetos on your plate. Make sure you use this in a good way. Do not encourage your kids to only eat junk food and never eat vegies. Be the bigger man.
  7. Tell them what is going on. When you have finished putting all of their food on their plate, point to each item and say what it is. They will start learning the names of the foods quicker and they might actually try some of it. It seems like pointing and naming the food makes it slightly more appealing. Our kids still do not like broccoli but at least they look at it on their plate now.
  8. Start with sample sizes. Kids get overwhelmed when the plate is overloaded and all of the food is touching each other. Start with small servings of each item. An added bonus is that you can encourage them to at least take one bite of each thing before giving them more of their favorite thing. If they have just gobbled down a pound of mac and cheese, they probably are not going to care that you want them to try their peas. If they start with just a couple tablespoons, then they have some incentive to try those strange green things.
  9. Make them ask for more. When they finish eating all of the bread, do not put another piece of bread on their plate. Make them ask for more. If they can not talk yet, you can settle for pointing, banging their tray, or crying but they should give some sign that they want more. You can also try learning a couple signs like “more” and “milk.” When they can talk, make them ask for more hot dogs. It is good for building communication skills and social skills like waiting for somebody to have a chance to help them.
  10. Everybody cleans up. When our kids where just walking, one of their favorite “chores” was carrying their cup to the sink, getting lifted by mom or dad, and tossing their cup in the sink. When we say that the meal is over, our kids grab their dishes and start marching to the sink. It is such a routine now, that sometimes we forget that they are supposed to do it, and they’ll remind us.
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