Is mealtime in your home complete chaos? Are your kids always upset, crying, or acting inappropriately? Is it one of the most stressful times of the day? Well, in this post, I’m sharing 7 simple tips to make mealtime easier and enjoyable when you have young children!
We all know how stressful mealtime can be when we have young children. They throw food on the floor, flip their plate over, they cry impatiently if the food is not ready yet, and so on!
I know exactly what you’re going through because I have 2 young children (under 4 years old) in my home.
While they might not act like this every meal, this type of behavior is very common. It’s usually the time when they’re likely very hungry and it just becomes really hard to control themselves at this point.
However, with a little effort (on your side) and a couple good tricks up your sleeve, it’s possible to help them cope and behave better.
Let’s take a look at 7 simple tips to make mealtime easier (when you have young children)
#1. Have a consistent schedule
I know, I know, here we go again with the schedule thing! But you know what? Schedules are great not only for the baby, bus especially for you! They allow you to have a plan and to always know what’s coming.
Having a consistent feeding schedule:
- Makes mealtime kind of predictable for your kids. Therefore, you’ll have fewer complaints because they know it’s coming;
- Allows their body to adjust accordingly and develop the ability to regulate their appetite;
- Gives you the opportunity to plan and prepare the meals on time;
- Allows you to plan the meals in a way that includes their daily required nutrients;
All of that will make mealtime easier and so much more pleasant for the whole family.
There’s no right or wrong schedule. The right schedule is the one that works for your family. For instance, in our home, we have 3 meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and two snacks in between.
Also, as one of the last steps in our bedtime routine, they have a cup of warm milk.
This is kind of what our feeding schedule looks like:
- 6:30 am – Breakfast
- 9:00 am – Morning snack
- 12:00 pm – Lunch
- 3:00 pm – Afternoon snack
- 5:30 pm – Dinner
- 6:30/7:00 pm – 1 cup of warm milk
#2. Eliminate all the distractions
Ever since a young age, I established the habit (and rule) of eating at the table with no distractions like tablets or TV. (Occasionally, we used the tablet at restaurants before the meal arrived, but not after the meal got to the table.)
I took this habit so seriously that later on, I wrote an entire blog post about how I broke it one time (by eating in the living room while my toddler walked around and I chased him – still no TV though) and it felt like complete “motherhood freedom”.
And because our rules were well ingrained in my son’s head, this didn’t disrupt our next meals at all.Having TVs or tablets on at mealtime completely steals the children's attention. This keeps them from watching how much they eat. And it also interferes with their ability to notice appetite cues - when to stop eating.Click To Tweet
Like the consistent mealtime schedule, having a designated place and rules for your meals can be quite positive for the whole family. It will make mealtime a lot easier.
Likewise, when your kids learn how mealtime works in your home from the very beginning, things flow smoother as they grow up.
#3. Eat together
Mealtime is an excellent opportunity for family bonding time. In our home, if we’re all at the house, we always have our meals together.
Sitting at the table with our kids conveys to them the importance of being together at mealtime and it shows that they’re not the only ones who have to show up. We also do, we also care.There's something about eating together that unites people. It brings people closer, and it does that to us and our kids. And kids who have a good relationship with their parents tend to collaborate a lot more than kids who don't.Click To Tweet
Always eat together with your kids when possible.
#4. Let them help out
If your kids like to cook with you (and they are old enough), why not? If you have the time, go for it!
Every time I let my son help in the kitchen, he feels special (he’s a great helper, by the way.) He feels like he had a part in what we’re eating.
As a result, he goes to the table a lot more motivated and excited to eat what we’re about to serve than when he doesn’t help. He immediately becomes more cooperative and pleasant to be around.
The time you spend cooking together also helps you bond with them. I feel so close to my son when I’m talking to him about food.
We talk about the ingredients, I teach him how to toss the salad, dry the leaves, and he also helps set up the table.
All of this also helps them develop a heart for helping others and being kind.
#5. Give them choices
When I say this, I’m not telling you to let them eat whatever they want or let them make food demands. Not at all. But kids like having some sort of control over their lives.So, the more we let our children make choices (when appropriate), the less they will have the need to make choices at inappropriate times!Click To Tweet
When Sam’s teacher told me this, I gave it a try and man… Can I just say I was blown away by how amazing it went? Every time I have a chance, I let him make choices.
For mealtime, some choices that I find appropriate and don’t mind asking him are things like:
- “Sam, would you want the red plate or the green plate?”
- “Do you want extra cheese on your pasta?”
- “Do you want to use the fork or the spoon?”
- Sometimes, I even give him two meal options so he can plan our meal with me.
Just make sure that all the options you give your child are actually acceptable to you. This way, your child will have the opportunity to make a choice and feel in control of something.
And you will be happy because either one of the choices was good and acceptable since you were the one who offered them in the first place. This new strategy will avoid many power struggles.
[If you have picky eaters and things are tough for you, you might wanna read these tips on How to Get Your Picky Child to Eat]
#6. Be in control
We just talked about giving your children some options. But like I said, that doesn’t mean you’ll let them run the place. Be in control of mealtime.
My oldest son has the terrible habit of complaining about the food as soon as we put the plate up on the table. Even when he eats all of it afterward. Sometimes, he just has to complain.
A lot of times, he says “I don’t want this. I want mac and cheese (or whatever it is that is in his head.)” Can you imagine if every time he did that, I made what he wanted? He would start making demands like that all the time.
And frankly, letting them be consumed by their own desires is not a good thing. They need to learn that not everything is how they want it when they want it.
As always, I tell him, “This is what we have today. If you don’t eat it, you’ll be hungry!” And he usually eats very well. If they don’t eat, don’t worry. I’ve never heard of a child that dies of hunger having a plate of food available to them.
At some point, they will eat the food you make. And if you don’t give in to their demands, they’ll start understanding how the mealtime dynamics work in your home.
Eventually, the complaints will cease, or at least, become less frequent.
Sometimes, all our kids need is a new way to have fun at mealtime or yet again, to feel like they’re in control.
When my youngest son was just getting started on solid foods, he was super picky! There was nothing harder than getting him to eat. It was rough.
One day, though, I decided to try out the new Gerber® pouches, the Gerber® Smart Flow™. Pouches were not something we usually did, because of the mess they make.
But these have a molded spout with customizable flow control. It helps to get more food in baby’s tummy and less on the floor to be cleaned up later!
So that’s what we did, and Daniel couldn’t be any happier that he was the one feeding himself. He was in control of the situation!
I was so excited to see how something so simple made him so happy and mealtime much less stressful. We chose the Apple, Mango & Strawberry flavor and it was a total success!
On that day, Gerber® turned a mealtime #PouchFail into a #PouchWin. Trying new things might spark some excitement and motivation for mealtime in your children’s heart.
Another time we innovated was when we tried the Ezpz Happy Mat (one of the top 10 toddler dishes in our home) for the first time. It sticks to the table and it’s really hard for the kids to get it off.
This way, they can’t flip the plate and make a huge mess. It’s one of the best kids’ plates we’ve ever tried!
Be innovative! Try some new things!
Making Mealtime Easier
We went through 7 new ways you can make mealtime easier when you have young children. I know it can be exhausting sometimes, but I believe that these tips will help your family big time.
And I can say this because…? Because they help mine!
- Come up with a consistent schedule;
- Eliminate all the distractions;
- Eat together with your kids at the table;
- Let them help out;
- Give them acceptable choices;
- Be in control;
- Try new things.
I’m sure that if you do all these things or at least some of them, your family will be well on its way to having easier, more pleasant mealtimes together.
You can start implementing each strategy slowly until everyone is used to them.
The most important thing is to make sure you do what works for your family! Try them out and see what works!