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An End to Family Dinnertime Disasters

If dinnertime is your idea of hell, here are some handy tips to turn mealtimes around. Yes, you can have an enjoyable family experience around the dinner table.
If dinnertime is your idea of hell, here are some handy tips to turn mealtimes around. Yes, you can have an enjoyable family experience around the dinner table.

1. Involve your kids in dinner plans. For older kids, get them involved in meal planning, shopping and food preparation. For younger kids, talk to them about meal times, what’s for dinner and get them to help set the table.

2. Eat at the same time in the same spot (preferably a family dining table). Dinnertime falls smack bang at a time when kids are at their most tired and grumpy but a routine can alleviate this immensely. Routines make kids feel secure. This can extend to a full dinnertime routine (washing their hands, sitting in a special chair, the order of dishing out food, the topic of conversation, what happens after dinner etc).

3. Give kids the power to make their own choices at dinnertime. This is a hard one for many parents. All we want is for them to take one bite of our lovingly prepared dinner. Just.one.bite.damn.it! High-level negotiations ensue, tensions rise, tantrums are triggered and in the end your kid registers that dinner = stress. The key is to simply offer food – take it or leave it. No alternatives, bribes, punishment or negotiations.

4. Try offering food on platters in the centre of the table and everyone helps themselves. Kids can be overwhelmed by a massive plate of food placed in front of them. Choosing their own food gives kids the perception of power. Remember that most mealtime battles are about control and power.

5. Set a good example. Put away the phones, turn off the TV, talk about the food you are eating and involve the kids in dinnertime conversation. Eat as a family if possible, get everyone to try new food and let the kids see you all enjoying food. Make mealtimes a social activity.

The key is to simply offer food – take it or leave it. No alternatives, bribes, punishment or negotiations.


6. Don’t prepare special kids meals. Apart from the stress of double-cooking, kids need to understand family meals. It may help in getting them to eat that day or at that mealtime, but it’s setting a bad routine and making things much worse long-term.

7. Prepare yourself for the mess. This can be a hard one when you’ve had a long day and all you want is for dinnertime to be over and the kids shipped off to bed. Prepare for messy mealtimes by storing a dropsheet, bibs, wipes and face washers near the dinner table. Remind yourself that a mess is not a catastrophe, but a learning opportunity. You can even involve the kids in the clean up.

8. Allow enough time for dinner, but not too long. Kids need at least half an hour to explore what’s on offer, poke around any new food and get enough into them. Though leave them in the high chair too long and it can lead to a full-blown tantrum. Learn their cues for when they’ve had enough.

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9. Remember that new foods will most likely be rejected. Keep offering them. Sometimes it can take months, but eventually curiosity will prevail and they will give them a try.

10. If all fails and your kid eats nothing, don’t fuss. Remove uneaten food and start clearing the table. A healthy child will not starve themselves. They are probably too tired, distracted or just not interested today. Try again tomorrow.

What are tips for putting an end to family dinnertime disasters? Leave us a comment below.


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  1. […] For more dinnertime inspiration, check out these brilliant tips to put an end to family dinnertime disasters. […]

  2. December 2, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    Wonderful tips! I definitely agree with offering food – then it’s either take it or leave it.

    • December 2, 2015 at 9:03 PM

      Thanks Tina 🙂

  3. November 18, 2015 at 7:13 AM

    These are great tips!!! We will definitely be using some of these. And yes- sleeved bibs! I never leave our house without the girls.

    • November 18, 2015 at 12:30 PM

      Thanks Kate. Yes, I love them too, especially when we’re out and about.

  4. November 18, 2015 at 5:47 AM

    We are in the middle of some dinner time struggles and this article was perfect! There are some great nuggets in here. Thanks so much!

    • November 18, 2015 at 12:29 PM

      Thanks Debbie, so glad it might help 🙂

  5. Karen
    November 16, 2015 at 6:09 PM

    Great tips here. It can be hard to not engage when everyone is tired and you’ve spent money and time on the food, but in the long-run I think it is best. Just found your blog – love it!

    • November 16, 2015 at 8:15 PM

      Thank you Karen 🙂 I really really hate the food wastage, but sometimes you really have to just let it go. It’s so hard!

  6. November 16, 2015 at 12:56 PM

    These are some great tips. I have a 2 year old who refuses to eat anything but French fries and chicken nuggets lately so I will be trying these tips out!

    • November 16, 2015 at 1:44 PM

      Thanks Maggie 🙂

  7. November 16, 2015 at 2:53 AM

    Fantastic tips! Mealtime can definitely be stressful, but family dinners are my favorite part of the day!

    Thank you for sharing with us at #mommymeetupmondays!

    • November 16, 2015 at 11:33 AM

      Thank you 🙂

  8. November 15, 2015 at 8:48 AM

    I must admit we don’t follow the dinner time rules that we should! And I can see how easily parents fall into the trap of having kids eat dinner in front of the TV… I guess we all just do what works for our family. I do agree about offering of all of the food – rather than bribing and negotiating – I read another article about the best thing you can say to ease dinner time battles “You don’t have to eat it” – which probably goes against what the parents are thinking!!

    • November 15, 2015 at 7:40 PM

      So true 🙂 I’d be the first to admit my son has watched TV during dinner. Like you said, you do what you have to and what works for your family. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  9. November 14, 2015 at 2:23 PM

    Great tips! We do all of the above, and our five kids are good eaters, but between the five of them there’s normally always at least one complaint at meals! I just have to keep reminding myself that it’s a marathon not a sprint, this parenting deal!

    • November 14, 2015 at 2:26 PM

      WOW, 5! That’s amazing. I’m sure you’ve had your share of dinnertime disasters 🙂

  10. November 13, 2015 at 2:31 PM

    I agree on most points , great post
    However when you are faced with a child who repeatly gags and cannot help it – you modify the food environment for everyone’s mental health. He isn’t on the spectrum or delayed – but it is a texture / sensitivity issue.
    Having a crying , vomiting baby/ child is very upsetting.
    His sensitivities were there an infant – his twin brother ate everything and he refused everything. NEVER ate pureed/mashed chooped food or baby cereal/weetbix.
    Nothing worked – it wasn’t about control and power.
    Damn lucky I breastfed him till 4 yrs.
    I was repeatly told to starve him till he ate – and withhold BF – even as a 6months -1yr old – it didn’t work. He would literally rather starve.
    He never used a bottle either.
    At nine he eats only raw carrot and baby spinach every night as his vegies (so no extra prep for me) won’t eat cooked vegies , mixed dinners (strifries/casseroles etc) but eats meat / rice/noodles separately, I just remove his food and continue making our dinner – stirfry or whatevers.

    He is unwilling to try new foods – we keep offering anyway. Curiousity is not on his radar no matter what and I agree 99% bribes rarely work – but ocassional I get a win for him to try something new for the promise of a ipad game. Mostly – he just can’t do it .

    • November 13, 2015 at 5:04 PM

      Hi Trish. Thank you so much for your comment. It’s certainly never black and white when it comes to kids. Best wishes x

  11. November 13, 2015 at 1:05 AM

    All good advice – especially number 10. It is worrying when kids don’t eat but you are right, if children are hungry they will eat. I will try to remember all your tips at 5 o’clock tonight.

    • November 13, 2015 at 4:52 PM

      Thanks Kim 🙂

  12. November 12, 2015 at 3:33 PM

    These are all wonderful tips, we follow almost all of them but unfortunately our eldest is still the worlds fussiest eater! #parentingpicks

    • November 13, 2015 at 4:52 PM

      All we can do is try Claire! 🙂