How to keep our (tater) Tots at the table!



Every parent wants an easy-going, stress free nutritious family mealtime, but that can go South pretty quickly unless we understand the capabilities of our little ones.  Here's a primer on how to optimize mealtime with your kids.



Family mealtime provides a wealth of developmental benefits for toddlers – helping to promote more language, improved social skills, and better nutrition. But we have to have realistic expectations for our little humans

  • 2 year old – may last 5 minutes
  • 3 year old – 5-10 minutes
  • 4 years – 10-15 minutes
  • 5-6 year olds – 15-20 minutes

 The length of stay will depend upon many things, including how hungry the child is, how tired, how his day went, and whether he is engaged in the process.


So what do you do  if your kid is starving at 4pm and the family doesn’t sit down to eat until later?

Tots are grazers by nature – they have high energy output and small stomachs, so eating small meals all day long fuels their engines and satisfies their appetites. That said, for thirsty kids avoid juice or milk between meals – they both spoil the appetite. Serve your child a mini snack at 4pm, and invite him to the family meal for dinner. Alternately serving dinner at 4 or 5, followed by a sitdown with the family with a bowl of cut up fruit, his glass of milk will provide him with that valuable teaching time. If you have time making that fruit or meal look fun and enticing creates an opportunity for conversation (we’ll show ezpz mats here) – you can talk about what is on the plate, and like us, kids eat with their eyes. And these mats can’t be dumped on the floor – removing another potential mess and stressor.


Let's face it - mealtime is often battlefield. Why is that? 

Put yourselves in the shoes of toddlers and here’s their day – WE decide when they wake up, what they wear, what they do, where they go, and when they go to bed. And developmentally they are naturally acquiring autonomy and independence, but how can you do that without some independent decision making? Well, resisting at the table is one way, setting the stage for a power struggle. Dawdling or refusing to eat = power. Also, in the rapidly changing world of a toddler, eating the same food every day is often a coping mechanism linking each day to the next. So new or novel foods may not be accepted until after 8-10 tries.


So how do we remedy this?

Involve your children in the meal – whether it’s placing napkins on the table, participating in some food preparation in the kitchen (even tots can stir or operate a rotary cheese grater), and then inviting them to the meal they helped prepare, or the table they just set should result in a gleam of pride.

Make sure your independent tot has utensils made for his size (show Munchkin utensils here). Great pride comes from feeding yourself. Pre-cut food so he can eat at his own pace.


How can we get toddlers to actually COME to the table….?

Transitions are very tough for young ones. So abruptly stopping playtime for mealtime will result in a meltdown in some kids. Set a timer for 3 minutes, and notify your child that when the bell rings, playtime will need to stop and dinner will come next. This will give your child a little time to separate emotionally from play. Use of role playing smocks can help as well.

Pretend play and role playing is beneficial to all kids development, so if your child’s late afternoon playtime centers around role-playing and imaginary play, and if that smock doubles as a bib, you can just invite your young astronaut, chef, parrot or panda to join you for dinner, all the whilst keeping him in “play” mode. And his doll or bear can join you.

Let’s face it, it’s tough to come up with conversation at the table with a 2 or 3 year old, so a role playing smock creates an opportunity to delve more deeply into the life of an animal, what space is like, what a chef does, etc. etc.


And lastly....stay focused on your kids at dinner time – talk about their day, what adventures they had, praise them for helping with dinner prep. If all your tot hears is a conversation about your stressful day, senses that you are upset or not engaged, all bets are off for a meaningful meal. Take the brief time you have with your child at the table and make it as fun, easygoing and adventurous as you can. You’ll have achieved your goal and the whole family will be better for it as a result!


Bon Appetit!


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