Having a set of family mealtime rules with which to feed your family can transform your dinner hour immediately, and in the long run.
Family mealtime rules are like having MapQuest™ at the dinner table. For parents, mealtime rules give parents a blueprint for how to conduct meals. Learn my favorite family mealtime rules in this article.
Why You Need Mealtime Rules
Having step-by-step guidelines are helpful for just about everything, even when feeding your child at the meal table. Instead of listing out the benefits of family mealtime rules, I want you to close your eyes and imagine:
You have a set of parent guidelines that help steer your parenting at the table.
You and your partner agree on them.
You follow them night after night, being careful to consistently implement them.
You fall back on them and re-align when you get off-track or out of sync with each other.
Having a set of family mealtime rules to live by will help align your feeding practices, send consistent messages to your child, and defray drama for all family members at the table.Family mealtime rules align your feeding practices, send consistent messages to your child, and defray drama at the table. Click To Tweet
What’s Behind Family Mealtime Rules?
Designed with your child’s long-term health, wellness, and relationship with food in mind, I’ve outlined a basic list of rules to follow, feed with, and live by.
These are for you and your partner or spouse, so that you are both aligned with a positive feeding interaction around the meal table. I’ve heard all too many times that parents are NOT aligned. This fact alone sends mixed messages to your child and makes feeding him or her harder.
These rules also minimize negative feeding practices, such as pressuring your child to eat and using rewards to motivate eating. They strive to help you teach your child about food in positive and productive ways. They guide you to encourage your child to self-regulate his eating and appreciate his body.
Avoiding these all too common mistakes at the meal table will help end the mealtime battles now and forever.
These rules also touch on what you should be doing to efficiently cultivate that healthy eater who has a healthy relationship with food that you’ve been striving to raise. These rules are based around encouraging your child’s independence, being a role model with eating, and being patient with the learning curve your child is on when it comes to food and eating.
Family Mealtime Rules to Live By
I will not…
Pressure my child to eat more, try a new food, or clean his plate
Offer a sweet reward for eating more food or trying something new
Oversell the health benefits of food
Demonize food (ie, “That’s full of cr*p!”)
Punish or shame my child for poor eating or for not meeting my eating expectations
Tease my child about his or her food choice, eating or weight
Force my child to eat
Cater to my child’s food preferences or short-order cook for her
Overly restrict portion sizes or indulgent foods
Sit together with my child at mealtime
Eat the same meal I serve to my child
Encourage the use of manners
Offer two or three options and allow my child a free choice from those
Help my child at mealtime by passing food or cutting it, if needed
Be patient with my child’s eating
Let hunger be my child’s guide to how much he or she eats
Encourage my child to recognize his own hunger and fullness
Be open to all foods and strategize ways to strike a healthy balance
I’ve put these mealtime rules in a handy printable called Family Mealtime Rules to Live By—you can grab your copy here:
Other Family Mealtime Resources You May Enjoy:
Do M.O.R.E. with Dinner by Melissa Joy Dobbins
Family Mealtime Matters (I’m the special guest on the SoundBytesRD podcast)
The Happy Family Meal Challenge (a 5 week challenge to transform your family meals into happy ones!)
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: November 2, 2016
Updated on: October 13, 2019