2 min video
8 min read

Family mealtimes are turning into a battleground

- Tips for facing eating challenges calmly and helping your child stay healthy

Things you can try

  1. Stay as calm as you can, no matter how stressed you are feeling

    Let’s face it – mealtimes can be challenging! Lots of us get to the point where we dread how they’re going to go. It's really hard to stay calm.

  2. Talk about hunger at mealtimes – not punishment or rewards

    At some time or other most of us have resorted to punishment or rewards around eating - after all they seem to work some of the time!

    Try to make a rule for yourself not to coax, threaten, bribe or lecture anymore. Let your child work out for themselves what they need.

    You could say “Ok, it looks like you don’t want to eat any more right now. You’ll be hungry later so you can eat something then.”

    Or you could ask them “are you hungry?” or “do you feel full?”

  3. Create ways to help them feel in control of their food

    The best way to create positive mealtimes is to help your children feel in control of their food. Some of the ways to do this can seem tough to fit into a busy day. But if you can follow just one or two of the tips from this list you can make progress.

    • Give them choices. Ask “shall we have broccoli or tomatoes or peas with the pasta at lunchtime” for example.
    • Set up a pattern of mealtimes together, so your child gets used to a routine.
    • Teach your child to enjoy healthy foods by cooking and eating healthily for yourself too – show them what enjoying tasty meals looks like.
    • Get your children involved with planning and preparing meals. Let them help making things and tasting ingredients.
    • Turn off the TV and eat together. Try and include everyone in conversation – even the youngest children. It will help them want to eat like everyone else and create more relaxing mealtimes.
  4. Stop and think about things that can affect hunger and mood

    It’s easy to get into a pattern of being miserable about how mealtimes go or blaming yourself or even your child. Instead of blame, try and think about different things that might be going on. If you can understand why meals have become difficult, it will help you make them go more smoothly.

    I realised that my daughter eats more when she’s had loads of exercise and less on quiet days. She actually knew what she needed but I was expecting her to eat the same every and panicking when she ate less.

  5. When you have to, just clear the plate away

    Remind yourself there’s no reason to be angry with your child, and no reason for you to be ashamed. Remember that for most children, tastes and habits around food change quite quickly.

    If you do become worried that your child is not getting the right nutrition because of their eating habits, then talk to your child’s GP.

    Your child is unique and we hope there are some takeaways here that work for you. If you’re looking for help parenting children with additional needs, you can get specific advice from specialist organisations. Check out our list of support that we can recommend.

    How did we do today?

    Please give us a thumbs up or down to let us know if we helped you.

    Read more on this topic

    • My child pushes my buttons

      Read now about My child pushes my buttons
      2 min video
      6 min read
    • How to ignore irritating behaviours effectively

      2 min video
      5 min read


    Stay up to date with parenting guides and support

    Sign up to our updates