Family Mealtimes – Your Guide to a Stress Free Dinner (even with a fussy eater)

It can often be hard to do, with work, school and day care schedules, sport training or swimming lessons, but it’s important to try (where possible) to sit down and eat dinner together as a family.

There are so many benefits to family mealtimes. You will be able to interact, encourage and praise positive behaviors, listen to your child’s stories and unique take on life, whilst they learn what and how to eat and how to behave. It is an opportunity to demonstrate positive eating behaviors, be a role model by setting a good example, encouraging and praising good behaviors and trialing new foods.

The goal of family dinners is to have a calm, stress free dinner, limiting distractions to have a positive impact on their choices, and making them much more receptive to trying new things. Less distraction will also allow for mindful eating and recognition of your child’s hunger and fullness cues.

Another way to create a calm dinner environment are creating meal time routines. Routines help reduce stress, whining and fussy eating behaviors as expectation is established. Your kids know what’s involved, what they need to do and that food will be available to eat soon.

Meal time routines don’t have to be elaborate, in fact the simpler the better. They should suit your family, be easy to follow and be consistently achieved. Meal time routines should also have a defined start and finish.

An example routine for your child could include:

  • Stop the games that they are playing and wash their hands
  • Help set the table
  • Eat the meal at the table with the TV, iPad, phones off or away so there are no distractions
  • Sit down at the table while the parents bring out the food
  • Dinner is finished when Mum and Dad have finished dinner

With the routine set it is the important to know both your role as the parent and your children’s role.

This part is often overlooked, but it usually comes from a good place. As parents we want the best for our kids so when they are leaving food on the plate, or flat out refusing to eat the latest vegetable we serve we worry that they’re not eating enough and not getting the right nutrients. Again this comes from a good place, but what we should be doing is respecting our children’s in built hunger and fullness cues (which is quite well developed). This in turn build’s our children’s level of confidence and trust and often diffuses the tense standoff’s, whilst expanding their food experiences without catering to their likes, dislikes and demands.

So what are the roles?


  • What food the baby/child is fed
  • Shopping for the food
  • Preparation of the food
  • Creating the mealtime schedule/feeding times
  • Create a calm, stress free environment


  • Whether or not to eat what is served
  • What to select to eat from what is served
  • How much to eat
  • When they are full

Within the roles there are also a set of rules or behaviors to help create a positive environment, these are:

  • Create a stress free, calm environment with no distractions
  • No bribing
  • No pressuring
  • Encourage and praise good behaviors/ trialing of new foods

Hopefully these strategies, routines and rules will help you create a calm, relaxed, stress free environment where your kids can learn to become confident and competent eaters.

Remember sometimes it will be a struggle, take a deep breath, relax and learn to embrace the food journey.

Did you know we offer online consultations? So if you need some extra help with your kid’s nutrition please contact us!