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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Mealtime with toddler and parents

Peaceful Mealtimes with Toddlers? Try These 9 Tips

One of the things I feel most passionate about is the importance of peaceful and connected family mealtimes. Nothing’s better at the end of a long day than enjoying a meal and talking together.

However, our busy lives can make it hard to have those idyllic dinners. More often, dinnertime is a blur of hurried cooking, complaining, and cleaning up!

To help parents with this, I’ve written about how to make family meals fun for parents with kids of all ages.

Meals with toddlers can be challenging. Here are 9 tips to help you enjoy them:

  • Eat together as a family often. This helps picky toddlers focus on eating and learn from family members about trying new foods. If mom, dad, or a big sibling likes it, maybe they’ll try it too!
  • Have your child use a high chair until they can sit in your kitchen chairs. They may need to transition to a booster chair. I remember sitting on the huge family dictionary when I outgrew my high chair!
  • Be ready for mess and don’t worry too much about it. Put a shower curtain on the floor under your baby or toddler. Or get a Labrador – they make dinnertime cleanup easy!
  • Keep a meal/snack schedule. Avoiding grazing or eating too close to mealtimes keeps kids hungry and ready to eat.
  • Skip the background TV. Now, I’m not perfect and my kids have eaten a few meals while watching TV as a treat. But try to reduce background noise to keep mealtime important and allow conversations. This also helps your child focus on food and their feelings of hunger and fullness.
  • You choose what foods to offer, they choose which and how much to eat. Once you’ve made the meal, sit back and enjoy being together as a family. Try to not focus much on what your kids are choosing to eat.
  • Don’t offer special “kid foods.” Of course, you’re not offering choking hazards to young children and are avoiding very spicy foods. Beyond these, everything is fair game to feed a toddler. Skip the kid’s menu in restaurants and let them have a portion your order! They’ll be less picky later about foods – even mildly spicy ones.
  • Offer one meal with minimal “customization.” Definitely don’t act as a short-order chef by cooking different meals for kids! I usually make one crowd pleaser and don’t worry about the rest of the meal. For example, I’ll serve chicken (safe bet) with roasted Brussels sprouts (some of us love ’em, some of us will eventually).
  • Don’t enforce rules to clean their plate. To make this easier – serve very small portions to young kids. A good rule of thumb is that a serving size is one tablespoon per year of age.

If you think it will encourage your kiddo to try new foods, consider having a “one bite” rule. I actually tried it with 3 bites. Think about what will work best with your family. It’s not worth turning it into a battle, or forcing a child to remain at their seat after dinner.

Remember, the goal is to enjoy peaceful, connected and fun family meals!

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.