It is really frustrating when you’ve prepared a meal for you family and you want to sit together and enjoy it, but your child doesn’t want to stay at the table with you. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Set up your expectations verbally
    • “We’re going to eat dinner now and that means sitting at the table”
  2. Eat together as often as possible
    • This SHOWS them how to behave (you are the best role model)
  3. Tweak your schedule
    • If they appear not interested in eating, perhaps they’re not that hungry yet, push the meal back 15-30 minutes
  4. Get some energy out before the meal
    • Take them on a walk
    • Put on some music and have them run/jump/shake
  5. Set your expectations low
    • Start with 5 minutes, work up for 10 and beyond (slowly)
    • Praise good behavior
  6. Take deep, calming breaths
family meal

If they’re unwilling to come to the table, remind them “this is dinner time and I’m putting your food on the table, you can come join us in a few minutes.” For children over ~18 months who understand, let them have a few minutes to themselves. Carry on and begin your meal!
If, after you’ve waited several minutes, they haven’t come yet, remind them their food will be waiting until everyone else has finished eating, then the next time to eat is …. (snack, dinner.)
Remember consistency with the schedule is really important so they understand mealtimes are mealtimes.

Want to feel confident knowing you have some simple, kind phrases up your sleeve to reduce your stress and frustrations at mealtimes? Get started below. Start minimizing mealtime meltdowns and stop fighting with your child so you can enjoy mealtimes again.



Hi, I'm Thalia the Dietitian. I help parents raise healthy, intuitive eaters and foster healthy food relationships with their children. I'm an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist. I teach nutrition to college students, author higher education materials to accompany textbooks that engages students, and I'm mum to two little ladies (and a retired guide dog lab.)


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