Meal Time Precedents You Should Start Setting With Your Littles

I know so kids that are picky eaters. One of my nieces eats all of five items and her mom, bless her soul, packs a lunch box wherever they go somewhere else to eat. Me? I’m not that nice of a mom, nor do I ever plan to be. And that is why we have set a few meal time precedents, and I think you should seriously consider them as well.


But WHY bother with some of these items I’m going through down below. Meal times, with toddlers especially, feel like a constant battle. When Ben and I went on our first trip without the kids back in the fall we realized that meal times were the best part because there was no fighting. We could enjoy the meal slowly and converse in peace. So again, WHY BOTHER?

I’ll tell you why.

Do you want to be the mom who has to make four different dinners every night?

Do you want to be stuck at home for YEARS while friends and family gather at restaurants?

Do you want to pack your kids a lunch box when they go to sleep overs one day?

If you have answered no to ANY of these questions, mama, then these next few items are for you.

When I got pregnant with Isaac the food thing was number one on my list. I was NOT going to make a bunch of different dinners to make sure everyone was going to eat. I actually think this is one of the first parenting topics ben and I discussed upon the little plus sign showing up.

Ben and I parent with one idea at the core, teach them now so we don’t have to fight about it later. This holds firm in a lot of ways and its honestly how we approach most of the “pick your battles” in our household. But we can go into that another day!

So, meal times. They’re a fight but they don’t have to be forever. There are a few things that you can slowly but surely teach kids of ANY age to make meal times easier for everyone. Of course, starting all of this from right there at the beginning is BEST, but you can always back peddle and set new “standards” for your kids, and for you!

Here are three meal time precedents we have set for our kids.

Our Kids Always Sit Down at Meal Times

There have been so many times that I am with another mom and her close in age kids and the other mom says “I can’t believe your kids sit the whole time!” At first, I was really confused by this observation. Of course my kids sit down for their meal? I didn’t quite get it because I was raised in a house where we sat down for meals. We didn’t have TV dinners on the couch. Actually, food wasn’t allowed anywhere but the kitchen (save for popcorn on family movie nights). So this just went right over my head. Until more people said it.

This is the first step to meal time peace, whether at home or out to eat. Your kids have to SIT DOWN for meals times. At the table. Bonus points if everyone is sitting at the same time, because it sets a precedent for eating.

We started this before our kids were even eating solid foods. Both of our kids lounged in the high chair while we ate dinner every single night. I would give them something to play with and we would talk about our days.

When they started eating solids, they were sitting at the table with us and eating right along side us. Typically I would feed the baby while Ben ate his food and then we would switch halfway through.

Even if we are out at a family members and there are kids running all over the place, which is once a month if not more often for us, our kids have to sit down to eat. And as a follow up, they don’t have a choice in the matter at this point.

Now you may be rolling your eyes at me…okay, Kayla, well that ship has sailed. How do I even start correcting this?

How to Teach Your Kids to Sit for Meals

You are not going to say, “okay we are all sitting down to eat” and your child will magically sit for a full twenty minutes to complete a meal. In order to start teaching your child to sit down for meals you have to be patient and consistent. Those are the two biggest things YOU as the parent need to keep in mind.

Then, you have to set attainable goals for you and your child. If they are currently getting up and running around like a wild child when you try to get them to sit still, set a timer for two minutes. Challenge them to sit for the full two minutes while they eat and overwhelm them with praise for what a big girl or boy they are for sitting down to eat.

Slowly move up the time as your child conquers each time frame and remember…praise, praise, praise. If you proudly expect your child to be a big kid, they will surprise you!

No TV During Dinner

Another big item on the list, for us as well, is to not have the TV on during meal times. We have noticed that Isaac, our three-year-old, gets so sucked into TV that he ignores his food. Before we know it we will have been sitting down for twenty-five minutes and he will have taken one or two bites. So this is something we are working on, specifically for dinner meals.

For dinner, we all sit down as a family and eat our dinner. 9 times our of 10 the kids eat what we eat, but I will get there. We started making sure the TV was off about 8-10 months ago and I won’t lie, sometimes it is still on. But we are being more conscious of it. The kids eat better when there are no screens and they engage more with us. This is one of the few times, daily, that we get to interact as a family. Sitting down as a family, no screens, helps the kids stay focused on the meal AND keeps their butts in their seats longer. Kids want to be where the action is, so make all the action revolve around the dinner table. That’s my recommendation for what is working for us so far!

We Have Family Dinners Daily

The last precedent we have set as a family is to have family dinners together every day. Of course, there are the odd days where Ben is home late from work, or one of us goes out to eat with friends. Apart from those occasions we are sitting down to eat as a family and, as I said earlier, we eat the same meal 9/10 times. The only exception to this rule is if Ben and I are having something really spicy.

This is not easy. I repeat, this is not easy.

Most nights dinner is a bit of a fight. Especially with Isaac (3). He is a fighter, not a picky eater. He just doesn’t want to eat what I made. He can love pasta with marinara sauce one day and hate it the next, it just depends on his mood. But the fight is worth it.

When we got pregnant with Isaac I told Ben that I was not okay with the kids eating different meals. I had and still have no intention of making multiple meals for one sitting. To be frank, we have done a really good job of this. The kiddos eat what we eat, end of story.

HOWEVER, there have been a few instances where we have let things slide. For instance, I made this split pea soup after Christmas this year. Ben does not like split pea soup, but he ate it like an adult, don’t worry. Isaac had no intention of putting the green goo in his mouth insisting that “me not like that green soup.” That night we made a new rule:

He is not allowed to say he doesn’t like something before trying it.

Of course, we knew he is stubborn as all hell but it set a new precedent. He has to at least try whatever is for dinner.

And this new rule is only for new foods that seem questionable. If there is a food I know he will like, boy’s going to eat it.

Closing Thoughts

I am sure if this ever gets around I am going to hear so much. Hell, you might be thinking I’m a mean ass mom who just does’t live in the real world. That’s okay with me. Here’s why, this is what we do for our family and it works. It might work for yours, it might not. It definitely won’t work for everybody because everyone story and life is different. But, no matter where you are I hope that this has made you think about your own meal times. If you feel so overwhelmed and in a constant state of fight during meal times, stop and think about changes you can test out.

Final tip for you, mama. If you have a picky eater I HIGHLY suggest checking out Kids Eat in Color on Instagram. Following Jennifer has been a HUGE help to me with meals. She has flipped my thinking on a few things and gave me a ton of tips and new things to try surrounding meals. Seriously, so much credit owed there!

Anyway, I hope this was helpful in any way possible. I would LOVE to know what you do about that constant dinner battle, if its the same or different leave me a comment down below! Until next time,

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