Top Tips for a Happy Mealtime

Judy More, Paediatric Dietitian and Registered Nutritionist


Mealtimes for many parents or carers can be a stressful part of the day. But please do not lose hope! The Infant & Toddler Forum is here to guide you through some of the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ with our top tips for a happy mealtime for you and your toddler!

The Dos for a happy mealtime:

  • Eat with your toddler as often as possible
    • Chat to your toddler and make each mealtime sociable and enjoyable
  • Always offer one of the foods you know your toddler likes
    • Offering something you know your child will eat at each meal will allow them to enjoy mealtimes while having the opportunity to see what everyone else is eating, so they can get more comfortable with foods before trying them
  • Encourage your toddler to get involved in the food preparation and shopping experience
    • Getting your little one to help out with things such as setting the table is not only useful to you, but it will also encourage your toddler to become familiar with new food! Interacting with new foods without any pressure to eat them will help your toddler to develop the confidence to try them in the future
  • Praise your toddler and the food
    • Toddlers respond positively to praise from their parents and carers so tell them they have done well when they try something new. Making positive comments about the food you are eating will also make your toddler more likely to try it themselves. Toddlers learn by copying adults (as well as other toddlers!) so this is a really important part of introducing new foods in a calm environment, which is not always easy!

And, the Don’ts…:

  • Ignore the signals
    • Try not to push your toddler to finish everything on their plate or to keep eating. Mealtimes will be a happier experience if you acknowledge when your toddler signals he or she has had enough. Refrain from prompting them to eat more than they want. Trust your toddler to eat to their appetite
  • Have distractions on in the background
    • Always try and eat in a calm and relaxed environment if you can. Toddlers can only really concentrate on one thing at a time, so turning off all distractions such as games or TV, and removing toys from view will help them to concentrate on their food and the mealtime itself
  •  Stress
    • We know this can sometimes feel difficult! But it’s worth remembering that if mealtimes are stressful for toddlers, they are more likely to become anxious and lose their appetite. Don’t feel guilty if one meal doesn’t turn out so well – we all learn from these events! Put it behind you and approach the next meal positively

Did you find these top tips for a happy mealtime useful? Why not share with your friends? See our Ten Steps for Healthy Toddlers guide if you want to find out more helpful tips!

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Further Reading

  • By Melanie Pilcher and Dr. Gillian Harris Establishing bedtime routines for toddlers and young children
  • By Dr. Gillian Harris, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Birmingham and ITF member Most parents will struggle at some point to get their toddlers to eat certain foods. Is toddler food refusal a sign of an eating disorder. or is it merely a phase? In the run up to Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Gill Harris provides practical advice to help parents tackle fussy eating in toddlers.  
  • By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.