As professionals that identify and treat a variety of pediatric feeding disorders, we are often asked, “How can I help my child eat better? How can I help them try new foods? Will I ever be able to cook one meal that everyone will eat?” One of the most important things you can do for your child is to establish good mealtime routines. In part one of this three-part series, we will talk about a few things you can do to create successful mealtimes for your family.
Create a Routine
Research supports that sitting at the table and eating together creates family bonding and an overall healthy lifestyle. It is really important to carve out this time when you can.
Start with picking one meal time per day- lunch or dinner is a great place to start- and sit at the table for this meal. Do this consistently so that sitting at the table for that meal is a learned behavior, which then becomes a habit.
Work up to more meals at the table together as you establish a routine. All meals should take place in appropriate seating for the child’s age and at a table without distractions, meaning music and iPads/television should not be used during mealtimes.
On average, a child eats three meals per day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and one to two snacks per day. For the three main meals we eat daily, the average time frame needed to complete a full meal is approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
Teach your child how to sit at a table for meals with a 20 to 30 minute time frame in mind. Start a meal by saying, “it is time to eat. Let’s all sit at the table.” Refrain from getting up once you are finished or moving on to other tasks, but rather stay seated as a family until everyone is finished.
Set a timer for 20 minutes, and enjoy a meal together. When the timer goes off, this is a 5 minute warning that the meal time is almost over. You can simply say, “oh that means our meal is almost done! We only have 5 more minutes to eat what is on our plates before our meal is finished.” Set a timer for 5 more minutes to signal that mealtime is over. When the 30 minute timer has gone off, the meal time is over. Have your child help clear the table and clean up as needed.
Some children have a hard time with this in the beginning, and it is OK if you need to start with a decreased time and build up to the full 20-30 minutes. Each family may need to begin at a different starting point, so please do what is best for your family and work up to the full time.
If you have concerns about your child’s mealtimes, willingness to try foods, or other signs of feeding disorders, please contact our office. We would love to talk with you about ways we can help!
Chariti is a licensed/certified Speech Language Pathologist in Knoxville, Tennessee and owner of Great Adventures Therapy. LLC.