Family meal times used to be a daily occurrence. Everyone would sit around the dinner table at the end of the day and eat together, share stories about their day and spend quality time together.

In my article about why I prioritise family mealtimes, I explain the many benefits of eating together.

If you have a fussy eater, family meals may be a nightmare and not the way you want to spend your evenings.

But you have to remember, kids learn to eat by watching their parents eat.

If family mealtimes have fallen by the wayside for you, follow this blueprint for happy family mealtimes.

This is one of the first steps on the journey to having your child enjoy happy healthy mealtimes.

Before dinner

  • Give everyone a 5 minute warning that dinner is imminent.   “We will be eating in 5 minutes”.  You may have already noticed that telling a child who is glued to their device that dinner is nearly ready can lead to world war 3.  A hot tip is to have them doing a different, non-device activity in the lead up to dinner.  Playing outside working up an appetite is perfect, but colouring in or just playing also work better than device time.
  • If your child has any sort of sensory issue, coordination issue or hypermobility, it is good to get them to do some of their activation exercises at this point.  A great one that works for a lot of families it to set up an indoor obstacle course, with cushions, tunnels etc.  If you have a trampoline, it might be a good chance for a quick bounce.
  • Next get your child’s to wash hands.  This is obviously a good thing for hygiene. It is also a good sensory exercise, and can help calm their nervous system before dinner. In the same way that I recommend you change foods at dinner all the time, I also recommend that you change the soap, towels and water temperature for hand washing.  This also give’s your child’s sensory system a little nudge each time they wash their hands.
  • Then, ask your child to sit at the table.  If you know that getting your child anywhere near the table is a struggle, you can have some of their safe foods already sitting at the table.  This will help calm your child down.

During dinner

  • There has to be at least one adult eating with your child. Not just sitting with the child, but eating with the child. Not pretending to eat either. Kids will see right through that old trick!
  • How you serve the food is as important as what you serve.  For fussy kids, it is good to adopt a way of serving food called ‘family style serving’.  That means all the foods go in serving bowls in the middle of the table, and every helps themselves (for younger kids, you may have to help serve them).  Everyone needs to take some food from each serving bowl.  If your child can’t bear to have some of the foods on their plate, you can give them a little side plate to put the food on.  That way the food stays visible to them, but they know they don’t have to eat it.  Here’s the catch……there needs to be one of your child’s ‘safe’ foods in the serving bowl.  So if your child only eats Pringles, chicken nuggets and white pasta, there needs to be one of these foods in the middle of the table for them to eat.  That way your child stays calm, and you know they won’t go to bed hungry.
  • For the next 20-30 minutes, you sit back and enjoy the meal.  Focus more on talking and social interaction, and less on what your child is eating, if anything.  Towards the end of the meal, you can encourage your child to eat a bit more before the meal is over, but never force a child to eat.

After dinner

  • At the end of the meal – everyone helps clean up!  Ask your child to take the uneaten food from their plate and put it in the scraps bin / compost bin.  Touching the food to do this actually is a great exercise in desensitising them to the food.  This also signifies that this mealtime is over and there is no more food

If your child is a fussy eater, there are many steps to take to turn that around.  The whole child needs to be considered – their gut health, nutrient status, neurodevelopment, oral motor skills. 

It is complex. 

Need more help?

No matter what the root cause of their eating issues, having family meal times is a big step in the right direction.  If you would like to have a chat to see if my Fussy Eater program “The Fuss No More Method” might be right for your child, please book a discovery call using this link.