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More Than Nutrition, Mealtimes Can Be an Important Way to Build Family Relationships

By Tanya Melo and Coralea Button, Halton Public Health

Feeding your child can be challenging and stressful. Many parents struggle with their child’s picky eating or cater to their demands.  Feeding your child is not just about food though. Mealtimes can be an important way to build family relationships plus confidence and independence in your child.

Intentionally reducing stress during meals is the first step in creating a relaxing, satisfying mealtime experience for the whole family. Too much focus on how much and what your child eats, can lead to pressuring a child to eat or criticism about how little they eat. This could create a cycle of negativity and stress that your child will associate with mealtimes.

When stress about eating is reduced, we can build trust and a positive mealtime structure with our children.

Ideas for creating a happy family mealtime:

  1. Trust (the foundation of eating and mealtime)
    • Mealtimes need to be predictable and at the child’s pace.
    • Avoid “tricking” your child to try food they don’t want.  Have a consistent mealtime and routine.
    • Use encouragement, not pressure.
    • Trust your child to know when they are full.

  2. Exploration
    • Trying a new food does not have to be eat and swallow. Try touch or smell.
    • Talk about the characteristics of food (crunchy, soft, cold, hot) rather than “Its yummy.”, or “It’s good for you.”
    • Colour and texture! Help them see and feel foods they don’t want to eat!
    • Model eating and enjoyment of food with your child.
    • Involve your child in meal preparation.

  3. Confidence and variation
    • Prepare a preferred food in a different way.
    • Introduce new brands and flavours often.
    • Reintroduce previously rejected foods.
    • Celebrate variation, not quantity.

  4. Quantity and hunger
    • Look at what your child eats over the course of a week, not just a single day.
    • Introduce new brands and flavours often.
    • Reintroduce previously rejected foods.
    • Celebrate variation, not quantity.

Family baking in kitchen

For tips and information about helping your child to eat well visit (formerly is a website developed by Dietitians of Canada. Information on nutrition, food and healthy eating as well as recipes, videos and interactive healthy eating tools.  The content is written and reviewed by dietitians using the trusted information in the practice-based Evidence in Nutrition (PEN®) database.

Healthy Eating Habits.

It is important that children develop healthy eating habits early in life. Here are some strategies to help your child eat well.

  • After the first year of life, growth slows down and your child may eat less food. It’s normal for your child to eat very well one day, and very little the next
  • Refusing to eat is sometimes used by the toddler to take control. It may have little to do with the actual food.
  • A toddler may be happy to sit at the table for 15 to 20 minutes and no longer.
  • Download the PDF: When Your Child is a Picky Eater
  • The toddler years are an important time to continue to introduce healthy foods and to be a good role model for your child.
  • Download the PDF: Helping Toddlers (1 to 2 years-old) to Eat Well

Next time: Relationships First for Happier, Healthier Children!

This blog is based on information provided by Halton early years professionals. Halton has many helpful resources, if you have concerns about your child, contact a healthcare provider.

Read other CPLE Blogs About Parenting Infants and Young Children

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