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9 Easy ways to make mealtime more enjoyable with young kids


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These 9 easy ways to make mealtime more enjoyable with young kids is coming from a mom who has dealt with plenty of picky eaters, and unappreciative family members.

There are plenty of things we have tried that simply did not help.  Even if we weren’t serving “different meals” we were still met with a battle.

But Take heart Mama! These are the best tips for creating more joy in the meal time for the whole family!

 1. Smile!

woman in apron holding up a hand mixer

The biggest and most important tip is to start with US! Believe me, I know how hard we work to gently incorporate new foods and healthy foods.  This can get so tiresome!

It can be really tempting to enter into family mealtimes with an exhaustion. And when you’re met with tenacious resistance, it can feel so futile. But take a moment to catch a breath before you sit down with the family. Put a smile on and you will notice the energy shift in the room.  

It is so often said that mom’s mood affects the whole family, and it’s true! If you’re serving with a joyful and cheerful attitude, your family will likely want to join in the positivity.

If you need to take a quick break before sitting down at the table together, then make sure you give yourself the time.  You could take a quick bathroom break, or pretend to take out the garbage for a breath of fresh air.  

Do what you need to be able to connect with your precious family in a tender way.

2. Meal plan!

meal planning notebook

Give the kids a say in the meal plan. First of all, we should be meal planning, as it helps to create more structure around the mealtime routine.  

Sometimes you can give the kids an A/B option for what to make for supper, then you’re not stuck with mac ‘n cheese! I like to create the meal plan once a week, and will ask the family if they have any requests.  

If your meal plan is displayed for the whole family to see (which I recommend) it gives everyone plenty of time to get on board with whatever will be served.  

3. Let the kids help cook!

mom with two daughters in the kitchen surrounded by vegetables

Even younger children can do so much more than we give them credit for.  Of course, you should always be supervising with young children in the kitchen.

Letting them pick out the spices, or letting them stir something is such a great way to get them involved.  Even a toddler can “help” by stirring a bowl of flour (even if you’re not using flour for supper!) Babies can sit in their high chair while mom cooks. Let them play with a muffin pan filled with items with fun shapes.  Babies and toddlers always seem to love playing with measuring spoons and whisks.  

Older children can start to do bigger jobs, especially if they’ve been helping with food preparation since they were toddlers.  Jobs for older children could include, getting the pot filled with water for boiling pasta, peeling vegetables, and preparing salad. This will look different for each family, but the goal is to get them involved.

Yes, I know, having kids help cook will just make it take longer.  That is absolutely 100% true!  And of course there will be days that you just need to whip up a quick supper without the additional “help”.  

But it’s time well spent.  It will pay off abundantly.  If we sow we will reap!

4. Dress it up!  

table with green table runner topped with a bowl of apples, lemon water, nuts, and two lit candles

One fun way to make mealtime more enjoyable is setting the table.  The dinner table will look different depending on the day of the week. But we should always try to set the table.  

We have had a lot of fun with finding table cloths, and candles at thrift stores and adorning our kitchen table with some inexpensive treasures.  It even makes it more exciting when they helped you pick out a certain tablecloth, or napkins for family dinner.  

Of course there are the nights when the family is busy. Sometimes it’s all you can do to toss some paper plates on the table. But perhaps you could put some ice water in a nice glass for everyone.  

Those little touches can really help convey to everyone how important dinner time is to your family.

5. Thankfulness!

family holding hands in prayer before meal

This is a big one. We should all be receiving our food with thankfulness.  Studies even show this helps aid in digestion. It’s absolutely fascinating how God created us so intricately!

I have started a mandate that no one is allowed to complain about the food until they have all said “Thank you.”  You might need to have a discussion with your spouse about this one. Likely the kids will follow the lead of the spouse who didn’t cook the meal.  

6. Let them dish themselves up. 

child smiling while eating food with dad behind her and mom and sister in background

This may seem like it wouldn’t make much difference, but it totally does!  I believe so much picky eating actually stems from kids feeling overwhelmed with too much food on their plates.  

Letting then scoop their own food can help them feel like they’re a little more in control of what they are eating.  This takes practice, so of course you need to be supervising how big or little their portion is.  

Encourage one or two bites, and assure them they can always have more if they are still hungry.  It may take a few times of trying new things for them to decide if they really like it.

7. Family discussion!

family eating a meal together

It’s such a good idea to encourage healthy relationships within the family during mealtimes.  We have acquired a few “dinner question” games for when we all get to eat together.  The only rule is: you have to be eating nicely in order to be able to choose the discussion question!

You can create your own dinner questions or there are packs you can buy that are great “conversation starters”.  It’s so much fun to create unique family discussions that otherwise wouldn’t have been brought up.  I’ve learned so much about my kids this way! 

This also becomes the training grounds for good manners at regular family meals. Be sure to have plenty of positive reinforcement for using good table manners!

This is the time to ask how everyone’s day was. What is their good news? What was one positive experience of their day? We encourage our dining room discussion to stick to positive things.

Put those screens away, turn off the T.V. and enjoy looking your sweet family in the eyes! I have to remind myself of this as well, but everyone is so much more relaxed without screens involved.

It can take some getting used to. I need the reminder too. But we are also modeling to our kids of all ages what a healthy relationship with screens can look like.

8. Have them help clean up after the meal.

dad and daughter washing dishes together with mom and son in background

You’re probably noticing a theme here. Let them help! It’s so good for the kids to have a small ownership of the family mealtime.  This can help them go from feeling overwhelmed by what is put in front of them to looking forward to the whole process.  

Even younger kids can help clear the table, or put leftovers in a container.  Of course, make sure they are safely supervised for anything involving knives, cutlery, or hot water. We just want them to feel like they are a contributing member of the team. But parents are ultimately responsible for everyone’s safety.

Some of our favorite jobs for our youngest members is wiping the table, putting the salt back in the kitchen, and placing things in the fridge as we get things packed away.  

Older kids are great at washing dishes (after thorough training!). Or doing a quick vacuum or sweep under the table if we made a little mess.  If everyone helps, it only takes a couple minutes!

If you turn on a family favorite song, it can feel like a little party. Then everyone can be proud of their accomplishments.

9. Cut back on snack time.

graham crackers stacked up

This one is really hard, and especially so for younger kids.  For anyone who has received a snack request while you’re still cleaning up supper (Can I get an “AMEN!”?) you know how defeating this is.

It also takes a while of training this in our kids for them to understand why we even do meals. Why don’t we just subsisting off of goldfish and graham crackers?

We have even had to explain to the kids that we are trying to create lifelong healthy eating habits. This way they can thrive when they launch into adulthood.  

Having designated snacking times is a must. This will make sure your kids are ready to receive (with gratitude) the regular meals you work to serve.  

So just keep at it, and know God sees your efforts.  What you’re doing is so important and really does matter.

What are some of your family’s favorite mealtime strategies?

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Hi, I’m Stephanie! I’m a Christian wife, mom of 4, homeschooler, and a technically trained chef. I love creating a simple, beautiful life with our sweet family.

I’m so glad you’re here!

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