6 Tips to Improve Mealtime with Your Kids

What if I told you there is a way to get your toddler to want to eat vegetables?  

Mealtimes with kids can be really challenging. This is especially true if your child is picky or does not eat the foods you hope they would eat. Thankfully, there are ways for you to have a positive mealtime experience with your kids, dare I say, even a fun experience! Below, are six simple tips to improve mealtimes with your children.  

  1. Provide pressure-free meals  

Have you ever experienced your child not wanting a certain food you are asking them to eat? Pressuring your child to eat more or certain types of foods may make them more resistant.1,2 Letting kids choose the food they will eat from what is being served is a great way to remove pressure.3  

Some common ways we may pressure kids to eat more include saying:     

  • “Just take one more bite.”  
  • “If you don’t eat this, you cannot go play that game.” 
  • “You can’t have dessert until you eat at least one bite of this food.” 

You can try these ways to talk to your child about food:  

  • “You can start eating when you are ready.” 
  • “You don’t have to eat more than you are hungry for.” 
  • “You don’t have to eat all of it.”  

 

  1. Plan balanced meals and snacks  

As a parent or caregiver, you choose consistent timing of meals and what the snack or meal is.3,4 Kids naturally know how much food they need. They need help with forming balanced meals. When kids graze on foods or eat alone, they tend to choose foods that are less nutritious. This is why having regular meals and snacks throughout the day creates healthier eating patterns. 3,4 

 

  1. Make eating fun   

This is something we often forget about but it is one of the best tools to use during mealtimes with kids.1,2,3,5 This is because having fun with a new food can help take away any fear or stress that kids may feel around new foods.  

A few ideas for making the meal more fun:  

  • Cutting the food into fun shapes 
  • Smelling the food 
  • Listening to it squish or crunch 
  • Using fun or different utensils  

 

  1. Keep trying new foods 

Did you know that it can take a child 8-10 exposures and tries to learn to like a new food?2,5 Children should be given many chances to try to a food even if they have not liked it in the past.2,5 It is possible they will change their mind. 

An exposure is any kind of interaction with the food.6 This can include:  

  • Playing with it 
  • Smelling it 
  • Serving it regularly   
  • Cooking with it  
  • Trying it in different forms  
  • Taking “test” bites 

 

  1. Serve dessert with meals 

Serving dessert separate from the meal gives dessert special attention. It is best to serve a reasonable amount of dessert with the meal.2 Doing this reduces kids desire to idolize the dessert.2 They start to see it as simply a part of the meal!2   

 

  1. Model the behavior  

Kids watch and learn from others around them. They benefit from eating and being served meals with others.1,3,5 Your children will see what you eat and how you feel about foods and they will learn to copy those behaviors.1,3,5 Model the food behaviors you would like your children to have.  Show them that you enjoy tasting new foods. Eat in a relaxed way and focus conversation on pleasant topics instead of trying to encourage your kids to eat.3  

 

These are a few helpful tips for making mealtimes more fun with your kids! The goal is to create a positive environment. The Bastyr Center for Natural Health and Bastyr University Clinic are full of resources and ready to help with any more questions or advise on this topic.  Schedule an appointment today! 

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Julia Bruce is a Dietetic Intern at Bastyr University. She graduated with her Master of Science in Nutrition in 2021. Her mission is to bring hope and healing to all cultures of people through simple and practical steps. Her clinical interests include oncology, child nutrition, and disordered eating.  

 

Citations  

1 Ogata BN, Hayes D. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: nutrition guidance for healthy children ages 2 to 11 years. J Acid Nutra Diet. 2014;114(8):1257-1276. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.06.001 

2 Agras WAS, Hammer LD, Huffman LC, Mascola A, Bryson SW, Danaher C. Improving healthy eating in families with a toddler at risk for overweight: a cluster randomized controlled trial. J Dev Behave Pediatr. 2012;33(7):529-534. doi:10.1097/DBP.0b013e3182618e1f 

3 Satter E. Ellyn Satter Institute. Accessed Jan 27th, 2022. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/  

4 Danaher C, Fredericks D. Responsive feeding and the division of responsibility. J Nutra. 2012;142(1):134. doi:10.3945/jn.111.150094 

5 Taylor CM, Emmett PM. Picky eating in children: causes and consequences. Proc Nutra Soc. 2019;78(2):161-169. doi:10.1017/S0029665118002586 

6 Hodder RK, O'Brien KM, Stacey FG, et al. Interventions for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in children aged five years and under. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;5(5):CD008552. Published 2018 May 17. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008552.pub5 

 

 

 

 

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