Making mealtimes happier

Children wouldn’t be children if they didn’t test your patience at times, and for many families mealtimes can be a particular problem area, with children making a fuss about particular foods or behaving inappropriately. Luckily we’ve got lots of tips and advice to help make mealtimes much more enjoyable for everyone.

Improving children’s eating at mealtimes

  • Put the food on the table. If after a reasonable amount of time, your child hasn’t eaten it, just take the food away without comment. Don’t nag them to eat. However, if they haven’t eaten, avoid offering a dessert. If your child later complains that they’re hungry, just say: “I’m sorry that you’re hungry. It’s because you didn’t eat any lunch”. Limit mealtimes to 20 to 30 minutes only
  • Avoid giving your child crisps, biscuits and sweets between meals. If they’re full of these foods, they’re unlikely to eat much at mealtimes. It won’t take long for them to realise that if they don’t eat their meals, they’re going to be hungry
  • Children copy adults and other children, so try to make sure everyone sits down together to eat, showing them that everyone is having the same food
  • Avoid leaving the television on at mealtimes as it’s too distracting
  • Children love eating outside, so have fun with summer picnics or BBQs or a teddy bears’ tea party in a nearby park
  • Use a reward chart to encourage children to show good behaviour at mealtimes, but make sure your rewards aren’t food related. Go for things like watching a favourite DVD, or going to play at the park
  • Persevere with these steps. Improving your child’s behaviour can take time. Talk to your Health Visitor for further tips if you don’t feel you’re getting anywhere

Getting the balance right

Good eating habits are established early in life, so encourage your child to eat a variety of different foods in their diet including fruit, vegetables, lean meat, fish, chicken and wholegrain cereals. If your child is a fussier eater, involving them in meal preparation can help. Have fun rolling and cutting dough, making patterns and faces with salad vegetables or fruit pieces, baking cakes or biscuits and making animal shaped sandwiches. You can even get them to grow their own cress, herbs and lettuce to cook with.

Healthy Start is a national scheme that aims to help improve the health of families on benefits and low incomes. If you qualify for the scheme, you’ll get vouchers for food and vitamins. Talk to your Health Visitor for more information.


Give drinks after meals and not before. If a child feels full of liquid, they’re less likely to eat properly. The best drink for your child is either water or well diluted, unsweetened fruit juice. One part juice to ten parts water is recommended for young children, because fruit juice contains lots of natural sugars which can be bad for teeth.

Children get much of the calcium, protein, vitamins and energy they need from milk and from foods like yoghurt or cheese which are made from milk. Drinking a pint of milk a day is sufficient to provide children with what they need.

Useful links

Page last reviewed: 17-10-2017

Next review due: 17-10-2020