Mother peeks around kitchen island at her toddler.


5 Tricks For Getting Your Kids To The Dinner Table

Jul 3, 2017

Every parent wants peaceful family meals in which the kids gobble up the nutritious food that they have spent time and energy making. But when you have little ones, mealtimes tend to be a bit chaotic, and eating tends to be random and unpredictable. Even the most well-intentioned parents often have unrealistic expectations. Toddlers and young kids simply aren’t developmentally ready to sit still for an extended period, and if they feel pressured to eat, they often push back by refusing.

Many dinnertime power struggles are triggered before the meal even starts. The way parents invite their kids to the table can set the tone for the entire meal. Calling the kids in a positive and productive way can be a game-changer, making mealtimes enjoyable for everyone.

Here are five game-changing strategies to get your kids to the table without a fight:

Give them a heads up (or several)

Toddlers and young kids between two and six are self-directed and often deep in play before a meal. It’s unrealistic to expect them to drop everything when called for dinner the first time (even when they’re hungry). All young children need advance notice for transition. So give lots of warnings: at 30 minutes, 15 minutes, five and two. Say something like, “make sure to do whatever you need to do to finish up your Lego structure now, because it will be dinner time in two minutes.”

You'll Also Love: 5 Ways To Get Your Kids To Eat New Foods

Take the pressure off

When a child is deep in play, or focused on an art project or TV show, there will likely be resistance to come to the table to eat. After all, they are doing something fun and they don’t want to stop. The resistance can be even stronger if the meal isn’t especially appealing to them. If your kids declare that they aren’t hungry or that they don’t like the meal offered, simply reply that, “you don’t have to eat, but you do need to come to the table for family time.” This will remove the pressure to eat right away and, most of the time, once seated, kids do tend to eat at least a little bit.

Get them to help with prep

You’d be amazed how things change for the better when you get your kids involved. Engage them in menu planning and meal prep at any stage — from grocery shopping to clean up. Let them have some say in what is served, and give them fun tasks like mixing, chopping, setting the table or serving dinner. Involving kids in the process makes it more likely that they’ll come to the table excited to eat. At the very least, it will make mealtimes a more positive and interesting experience and teach them important life skills.

Pay attention to timing

Timing is everything. With kids, this is especially true when it comes to eating and sleeping. Mealtime meltdowns and food refusal are inevitable if my husband and I drop the ball and serve dinner too late, whether our kids are over-hungry or simply too tired. Young kids have small tummies and need to be offered food every two to three hours. 

Make it a game

Want to get your kids’ attention and entice them to come to the table? Make it a game! Have a bunny hopping race to the table, or let them show off their best snake-slithering techniques. Pretend that you’re climbing aboard the suppertime express train and make “chug chug” sounds through the house together before ending at your dinner table destination. A little fun and creativity can set the tone for a positive family meal!

Article Author Sarah Remmer
Sarah Remmer

Read and watch more from Sarah here.

Sarah Remmer, RD, is a pediatric registered dietitian and owner of Sarah Remmer Nutrition Consulting, a nutrition consulting and communications company based in Calgary, Alberta. Her website and blog contain practical tips and advice for parents and families on feeding and nutrition (everything from pre-natal nutrition to teens), as well as nutritious and easy recipes and videos. Follow Sarah on Facebook for free advice, tips and family-friendly recipes!

Add New Comment

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.