Tips to Promoting a Pleasant, Healthy Mealtime Environment

Speech-Language Pathologist and owner of Play Works Children's Therapies is fortunate to have spent the weekend refining her skills as a pediatric feeding therapist with Dr. Joan Arvedson, PhD, who is internationally renowned for her pioneering research, instruction, and clinical work with infants and children who have feeding/swallowing disorders.

I am excited to share her "Food Rules" which she has compiled over her extensive career. Many of these may seem simple, but not necessarily intuitive. These are great tips for all- especially for our caregivers who are working through meal times with picky eaters and problem feeders.

  1. Meals will be at regularly scheduled times, also planned snacks
  2. The child must sit in the highchair or at the table while eating. No grazing, walking around with cup or food, or eating all through the house.
  3. Nothing between meals will be offered, including bottles, milk or juices. The child may drink water if thirsty. (nothing else).
  4. Solids will be offered first. Fluids last. Alternating food & liquid works fine for some.
  5. Meals will last no longer than 30 minutes. 
  6. Child will be encouraged to self-feed as much as possible (i.e. finger feed, hold spoon, etc.)
  7. A sheet or large garbage bag can be placed under the high chair to "catch the mess". Wipe the child's mouth and hands and clean up only after the meal is over. 
  8. The child should learn to eat without approval or disapproval. Do not force food or comment on the child's intake. Mealtime should be a neutral atmosphere. Praise specific to the actions often is helpful, e.g., "I like the way you took the spoon" or "you put the cracker on your teeth" with a big smile. 
  9. Do not ask your child "are you ready?" or "do you want ___?" If child says "no," you must respect that "no" and you are done. Instead say something like "time to eat," or "here comes the spoon," or offer a choice: "Do you want ____ or ____?" Parent stays in charge, while child learns to make choices. 
  10. Food should not be given as a present or reward.
  11. No game playing at mealtime. Do not use games or distractions to feed the child.
  12. Food should be removed after 10-15 minutes if the child seems to play with the food without eating. 
  13. Mealtime should be ended if the child throws food in anger. However, it is important that the child is calmed before getting out of a seat. end the meal on your terms before the child gives signs that she is finished. Foe example, "2 more bites, then all done." Follow through. 
  14. Relax and remember it is okay for a child to miss a meal once in awhile. 

Play Works offers multi-disciplinary feeding evaluations and treatment with our team including a pediatric occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist, and a pediatric registered dietitian. Do you have questions or concerns regarding your child's picky eating or problem feeding? 

Sarah McDonnell