Meal time and children. Is it ever simple and easy? Not very often, but sometimes it can be.

Here are some tips that I applied along the years to make meal time less stressful. Sometimes these tips work.  Other times I need more patience than usual. In the long run I hope these tips help my kids develop good eating habits to nourish their growing bodies.

  • Sit down together for meals if possible, even if it is only one meal a day.
  • Emphasize that the food helps them grow and gives them energy to play. This explanation works with my son. You can use a different explanation that makes sense to your child – maybe that the food helps them grow big muscles, helps them concentrate in school or games, or whatever is important to them.
  • Explain that the meal was prepared with hard work and love and that complaints hurt your feelings. In our house having a bad attitude about a food that they did not try is a no-no. They have to try it and if they don’t like it then they can say so, but whining or saying that they hate the food that I put on the table is not acceptable.
  • Sit your child down to eat when they are hungry. If they are not hungry, they are more likely to refuse and complain about everything we offer them (unless we offer them cookies 🙂 ).
  • Tell them matter-of-factly that if they eat the food, they will get a dessert after. The dessert is not used as a bribe, but it is a natural consequence of what happens when the meal is done.
  • If they are not hungry now, then don’t have to eat. But the same food will wait for them later.
  • Always offer the same foods you eat to your child. Why would they need special foods at home or in restaurants? They can eat the same foods we eat, just smaller portions.
  • Serve small portions. Children can get intimidated by too much food on their plates. Put a little bit of everything on their plates and if they ask for seconds after they finish, they can choose their favourites items from what was served during the meal.
  • If they do not like their foods to touch, respect that. Maybe use plates with dividers. All the foods reach the stomach where they get mixed anyway 🙂 . I don’t like my warm food to touch the cold food, so why the kids wouldn’t have preferences as well?
  • Avoid complaining about food in front of the children. Always. Not just at meal times. Hopefully the kids will model our behaviour.
  • If your child doesn’t like a particular raw vegetable, offer it steamed or roasted. My daughter does not like raw broccoli, but she loves steamed broccoli.
  • Children should be allowed to have a few foods that they don’t have to eat, but they have to taste them each time they are served during meals.
  • Serve a favourite food with a not-so favourite food. My son does not like raw onion, but he eats it if it is mixed in a salad.
  • If at all possible, make the meal look appealing. I am not talking about Pinterest-appealing (hard to beat), but pleasant to the eyes. Even if it is just served on a colorful plate.
  • As parents, we are responsible for what our kids eat and the kids are responsible for how much they eat. I learned this rule early on and I am glad I did. I don’t fret about whether they eat enough food. Instead I make sure that the food is nutritious and appealing as I am the one in charge with buying the ingredients and preparing the meals. Children know when they are full, so adding more food onto their plates when they say they are full may make things worse rather than helping.
  • Above all, stay calm during meal times. I know, easier said than done…

Why do I insist in children tasting the food? Because we can train our taste buds and a food that we don’t enjoy now can become one that we do enjoy later on. I used to not like boiled eggs. At all. But I tried one slice every week or so (as I could not tolerate more) and now I enjoy them and I wonder how I did not like boiled eggs before, as I find them so delicious now.

It is easy to agree with our kids when they refuse the food we prepare and to give them fast food or open some packaged food instead which requires less effort from us. Unfortunately this approach takes us down a path from where it is hard to come back. The kids will get used to eating these foods and often be even more likely to reject our home cooked meals.

Offering children healthy choices when they are young and being consistent as they grow will make them more likely to be open about foods and enjoy a variety of foods. There are lots of opportunities for temptation out there (birthday parties, sleepovers, etc.), but at our house the kids know that they have to eat the nutritious and delicious foods that I make. I don’t deprive them from treats. Au contraire. They have many delicious treats available to them in the house. But in addition to those, they also have home-cooked meals that offer them more nutrition.

I love my kids and one way that I show them my love is by preparing healthy food for them. Delicious food. With real ingredients.


Do you want to read the other tips? Here they are:

Tip #1Set a good example

Tip #2Involve your kids in the kitchen

Tip #3Eat together as a family

Tip #5Involve your kids in planning, shopping, and preparing meals

Tip #6Never give up


Do you have tips to make meals an enjoyable process? Did you try any of the above? Did any of them work?

 Image courtesy of amenic181 /