Nutrition Articles

Make Family Mealtime More Pleasant

Instill Healthy Habits in Your Kids

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As a parent, your days are probably pretty stressful. You get the older kids off to school, run errands, keep the household running smoothly, and maintain your career. At the end of a hard day, you just want to relax and spend some quality time with your family.

But if you’re like most busy parents, relaxation time is nothing more than wishful thinking. As the house fills up again at night, there’s noise, tantrums, and disorganization, which seem to last until everyone falls asleep.

Mealtime, whether it’s breakfast together or a family dinner, doesn’t have to be as stressful as the rest of your day. Here are some tips to handle picky eaters, set an example of healthy eating (which children learn from their parents), and make your meals together a more positive experience:
  • Try to serve food in a comfortable, relaxed, and unhurried atmosphere.
  • Encourage a child’s participation in meal preparation (measuring, stirring, decoration, cutting and arranging)
  • Food should be warm or cool, (not hot or cold); a child’s mouth is more sensitive than an adult’s
  • Flavors should be mild, not spicy; a child has more taste buds than an adult
  • If the child is able, give her a small, mini-shopping list to look for a few items on the lower shelves. Make sure the foods are nutritious and easy to handle.
  • If you want to avoid waste, serve smaller portions. Don’t encourage overeating or fussy eaters by forcing a child to eat everything on the plate.
  • Let your child learn to feed her or himself. Be patient. To ease the mess, put newspaper under the chair and have a towel ready to wipe up spills.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Great article. But I always put veggies out and told them they had to eat a veggie. And even my grandchildren the same way. When they went to the doctor they ask do they eat veggies and they would say only at my nana house. Well the doctor told them they need to eat a veggie everyday. Told the parents to make sure they get them because it was health for them. - 9/24/2013 7:36:20 AM
  • If a child doesn't seem to care for a new vegetable, then fix two veggies at each meal and let him or her choose. That way, they can have some choice in what they eat, but will learn that both are good options. You and the others can then eat whatever vegetable is not favored. Soon your child will learn by copying what he sees other people choosing.

    As a kid, I went trhu stages where I ate broccoli florets, then only the stalks, then finally all of the plant. Different textures at varying stages of my development. Now I eat the whole thing, and many others. But some veggies have taken years to learn to like or at least eat. I will never love spinach but I can get some down now - if its raw or chopped very fine and cooked into soup with many others. Okra on the other hand will always be nasty. But I love eggplant, peppers, beets, burssel sprouts, and many more so who cares if your kid won't eat all his veggies as long as he eats some. - 8/23/2011 1:00:03 AM
  • I liked the suggestion to give them time to play in the water as rushing them may upset them and affect their mood at meal time. I will remember that. My nephew will eat most foods that he helps to prepare. As for my 18 year old. The environment helps. If we set the table and the table and meal is asthetically pleasing he will sit, eat and converse with us. A nice atmosphere just like a restaurant makes a meal more enjoyable. - 11/13/2010 5:58:40 PM
  • A few things that worked for me as my children were growing up: (1) If they didn't want to eat a meal, their plate was covered, put in the fridge and warmed up if they wanted something to eat later. (2) They had to try at least two bites of everything being served. (3) Desserts were not used as a "reward" but absolutely no dessert if they didn't eat a meal (that doesn't mean they couldn't leave some food on their plate, but they did have to eat a reasonable amount). (4) I found that they would eat almost any veggie if I cut it up pretty small, apparently they didn't like larger chunks of chopped veggies--can be cut/chopped/diced either before or after cooking. (5) For toddlers and pre-teens, put the food on a smaller plate and using smaller portion sizes. (6) Young children will have an easier time eating with a salad fork than a regular fork. (7) Only if they were ill were they ever given different food and then they were usually given soup, etc. My children are grown now and even their children are good eaters although each of us has a few individual things we don't particularly like to eat. Don't make mealtime a time for battles, just set rules and stick to them. - 11/3/2010 5:51:57 PM
  • I know every one is different but when My twin boys were babies I never thought " what shoudI feed them" ,I just did. There were many times that I made their baby food and I made it like every thing else ...with garlic. They have never really been picky (okay one didn't like green peppers) but they ate every thing in front of them. Now they are 24 and still eat great and are pretty good cooks.. Was I lucky ? Not sure but I am happy - 11/3/2010 3:13:17 PM
  • Some of these ideas will work well for the single person who tends to eat (too much without enjoyment) while watching TV or on the computer. Yes, that's me. - 11/3/2010 10:31:12 AM
  • our children should learn how to cook . they will go out into the world and have to fend for themselfs . If they learn with you then they do for themselfs . If they return home then it is an added bonus . they can make it easier for the whole family . - 10/16/2010 2:22:15 PM
    My youngest are teens so they can cook. I buy the groceries so they cook what I buy. I do not force them to eat if they do not want the food but there is only one menu at my house. If they do not want to eat they can go hungry and eat at the next meal or look for left overs. I grew up that way and it worked just fine. If you do not eat at meal times, you will get hungry and eat what is available unless you have money to order pizza everyday. At times we have to be firm as parents and not let our kids run the house hold. - 7/22/2010 11:14:43 AM
    Some of these hints will work just as well for other members who return home from work tired, stressed, not hungry - having eaten a lot of the wrong things at the desk. Thanks. - 12/7/2009 5:01:45 PM
  • Excellent article! As the result of a childhood that gave me many bad eating habits, I made the effort with my daughter to NOT make food an issue. I remember times when she'd see something she didn't like on the table and she'd just say, "I'll go to my room and read and eat tomorrow." And she did! She's now a healthy adult with healthy eating patterns. - 12/7/2009 4:16:03 PM
    As a working parent I don't have time to either make a range of foods for my kids to choose from or to be making meals all night.
    What has worked for us is that I cook a meal that is healthy and in which there is at least something that everyone will eat. Our rule is that they need to try a taste of everything that is on their plate and if after trying it they don't like it, they don't have to eat it. However, that is the only meal being cooked that night and all that there is to eat besides that is fresh fruit.
    I have found that kids that didn't like certain textures like mushrooms and onions often devleop a taste for them after a few tries and sometimes they will eat a vegetable cooked a different way. A night or two of realizing that I don't have the time and won't cook them a special meal soon makes them a little more adventurous and willing to eat when we do. - 12/7/2009 1:26:27 PM
  • Sounds like common sense. - 10/22/2009 2:15:39 PM
    As I thought more about the article, I wanted to add another comment about this suggestion: "Make a wide variety of nutritious foods available to your child, and then let your child decide what to eat."

    I don't know about all of you, but no one in my family has the time to cook up a smorgasbord. The kids get two choices at meal time. It gives them some freedom and saves our sanity. - 9/11/2009 8:55:09 AM
    My nephews are still young (5, 7, 7 and 9) so these tips are relevant to my life. Thanks very much. I agree that it's really important to set a positive example. - 9/10/2009 4:10:04 PM
  • Easier said than done. My 5 year old will eat nothing on her plate, or maybe just one bite of noodles, tell me she's not hungry, get up, then right before bed time tell me she's starving and insists on eating. So if I don't MAKE her eat at dinner time it is a huge pain, because then later she will beg for pudding, chocolate, candy, whatever. So sometimes I think it is appropriate to insist your child eat at dinner time and not later when she just wants junk. - 2/3/2009 2:07:27 PM

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