February 21, 2024

Mindful Mealtimes

Written by Dr. Sandy Portko, Early Childhood Expertise

By Olivia Trappen and Karissa Monzo
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Mealtimes with kids can be challenging for a lot of reasons. Children might love a certain food one day and hate it the next. They are nervous to try new food even when we’re confident they’ll like it. And sometimes they simply refuse to eat altogether!

This can create a lot of stress for you as a parent or caregiver. You want the best for the children within your care, and you know how important it is for them to eat food that will nourish their growing bodies. You or someone in your household has likely spent extra time preparing food to fit the needs of the kids. Even before this meal was cooked, you were probably brainstorming how to make it healthy and yummy for the whole family, which might include people of varying ages, likes and dislikes, and dietary restrictions.   

Here are some valuable tips to help you make mealtimes a positive family experience, and hopefully reduce your stress in the end! 

Limit distractions

It’s tough these days to set aside things like texts, calls, emails, tv shows, movies, social media, and video games. However, putting these things on pause while you eat meals together will let your child know that eating is an important time in our day and deserves our full focus and attention.   

Avoid giving food as a reward

Giving things like cookies or candy as a “reward” for eating their meal and/or trying new foods might reinforce the idea that healthy food is bad and must be tolerated rather than enjoyed. It’s perfectly okay to have desserts, but those should be a planned part of the mealtime routine rather than a contingent one

Encourage them to listen to their bodies

While it is important as a parent to make sure your kids eat, it’s okay to honor their feelings when they say they are full. Forcing children to finish their plate at every meal might cause them to lose touch with that feeling and overeat at meals in the future. 

Try preparing the same food in different ways

People, no matter their age, have their own unique set of preferences. For instance, you might hate cooked carrots but love eating crisp baby carrots as a snack. Just because your child says no to a food one way doesn’t mean they won’t like it a different way!   

Provide a “safe” food

You are in control of what goes on the plate, and there’s no rules saying you can’t serve plain chicken tenders alongside a lasagna! When introducing a new food, try including an easy, familiar, and well-liked food too. This will help your child feel more comfortable and open to trying new foods. 

Most importantly, do your best to promote healthy living

Your child watches everything you do and hears everything you say, so be mindful of the language you use about food and bodies around them. For example, strict dieting may send the message that eating is stressful or that food is a problem.  

Healthy living can include not just eating healthy foods but also going out of your comfort zone to eat a variety of foods. It’s also beneficial to remember that food is not the only thing contributing to a person’s health and that physical activity is just as important! This might mean taking family walks after dinner or having a dance break while they wait for food to be ready.  


Thanks for reading! 

We encourage you to use these tips and let us know how it goes! Feel free to send us a message on social media or tag us in your posts with @familyfutures on Instagram or Facebook!



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