Mealtime: Establishing Routines

By: Geena Schmidt, OTR/L, Mary Dahly, OTR/L & Lindsay Jolley, COTA

The mealtime routine is important for families in order to encourage healthy habits, communication, and to deepen family connections. Children especially benefit from mealtime because of the abundant opportunities to learn life long skills. Some of these lifelong skills include: meal preparation, responsibilities, manners, establishing healthy routines, and relating to other people. Here are some ways to involve your child in mealtime routines!

Involve your child

  • Have “Taco Tuesday” at home, or let your child pick 1-2 meals they want to eat each week
  • Make a list of ingredients and take them grocery shopping
  • Let them help prepare the meal
  • Have them gather items for mealtime and bring to the table
  • Have them set and clear the table
  • Wash dishes or load dishwasher
  • Prepare your child for mealtime

  • Give your child a 5 minute warning that meal time will be starting soon to help avoid meltdowns before mealtime. This could include a verbal warning or a visual timer showing how much time is left
  • Wash hands before eating
  • State your behavioral expectations for the meal (holding fork correctly, remaining seated, waiting until others are done talking before sharing a topic)
  • Eat with your child
  • Sit together at the table as a family
  • Increase attention by removing distractions, such as cell phones, ipads, television, loud music, and pets
  • Encourage proper seating; older children should be able to comfortably touch the floor with their feet (placing a small stool under their feet can be helpful)
  • Encourage communication by serving the meal family style; this increases social skills (making requests, asking questions)
  • Teach portion control by encouraging them to take only what they are able to eat
  • Broaden their repertoire of food by encouraging then to take at least one bite of a new food each mealtime
  • Improve the relationship with your child during mealtimes; ask your child about their day, ask about their recess activity, or find out what they had for lunch
  • Teach manners by having children ask to be excused from the table before leaving, using please and thank you, and helping with the cleanup
  • Create Consistency
  • Make mealtimes a routine; if you can’t eat together everyday, make a point to share a meal at least twice a week
  • Include everyone
  • Try to be consistent with your expectations; but be flexible enough to know that not every evening will go according to plan
  • References:
    CDC Nutrition for Infants and Toddlers: Mealtime Tips and Routines
    AOTA Children and Youth Mealtime