10 Tips for Hassle-Free Eating
With Young Children

Mealtimes that are struggles between adults and young children are no fun for anyone. Here are tips from health experts on how to keep mealtimes low key and more enjoyable for everyone.

1. Eat in a pleasant environment and be sure young children are comfortable at the table. Provide child-size utensils. Adjust a child's seating as necessary.

2. Let young children know what behaviors are expected and be consistent in encouraging good table manners.

3. Let children assist with food preparation, setup, and cleanup. Being part of the "kitchen team" can promote positive attitudes toward food and eating.

4. Serve meals family-style so children can choose their own portion size. A bite-size serving is fine. Children will feel more successful if they can control the amount they eat.

5. Encourage but don't make children taste every food. A child may feel ill or have a strong dislike for a food. Forcing the issue can reinforce the child's dislike of the food.

6. Let children judge their own hunger cues. It's okay to eat very little at one meal. Researchers are finding that the clean-your-plate rule can lead to children ignoring their own signals to stop eating when they are full.

7. Don't comment on what or how much a child is eating. That's part of keeping mealtime low key. Within reason, ignore negative behavior and food refusals.

8. Never bribe children to eat. "Rewarding" a child with dessert or more playtime sends the wrong message about food.

9. Don't hurry meals. Three- to 5-year-olds should be able to sit still for 20 minutes. Discourage dawdling by taking plates away after 20 to 30 minutes with the comment, "Eating time is over for now."

10. Sit with children and eat the same foods they do. Research shows that positive adult companionship at meals and snacks improves young children's eating habits.