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Eating Out and Toddler Mealtime Manners

Ever wondered how the spaghetti got on the ceiling? A toddler’s independent and curious behaviour at mealtimes can sometimes be a source of stress for parents.

Start mealtime manners early

It’s not uncommon for toddlers to express their new-found independence at mealtimes – with running around the room, wasting food and making a mess being some of the common problems faced by parents.

Teaching young children good mealtime manners takes time and effort. Toddler’s attitudes to food and eating habits start to form very early on in life and begin at home – making family meals a great time for your toddler to learn about food, share family values and understand all about what is expected during mealtimes. You are the most important role model for your child and they will want to copy what you do.

Tips for getting toddlers to sit down to eat

It’s natural for toddlers to be inquisitive and want to move around – attention spans may be short and sitting still at the table can be a big ask for some children. However, it’s important to explain to your toddler that running round while eating or in areas where food is being served can be dangerous – both for themselves and others – and that this applies both at home and when they are eating out.

Some useful tips to help keep them seated include:

  • Develop mealtime routines – establishing some routines can be a key part of learning what is accepted and what is not. Let your toddler know when the meal is over and when they can leave the table. Follow this up by taking away their plate as a signal that mealtime has finished. If they are hungry later they can have a healthy snack.
  • Make mealtime a fun and positive experience for your toddler
  • Get your child involved in family conversations so they are more likely to stay at the table
  • Remember to praise your toddler whenever they get things right!

Messy mealtimes and wasting food

Toddler mealtimes are always going to be a bit messy as it takes them time to master all the skills needed to feed themselves – it’s also an opportunity for them to use their new-found independence, so remember:

  • Toddlers find it easier to eat with their fingers. Providing your toddler with food that is cut into strips or fingers is easier for them to manage compared to larger pieces.
  • It takes practice and many years to develop the skills that are required to eat neatly with a knife and fork. Practice makes perfect, expect some mess and plan accordingly!

Simple rewards such as complimenting your child, offering stickers, or stamps may help to enforce good table manners. Don’t use desserts or non-nutritious foods as bribes this will not help to encourage good behaviour.

When your toddler’s manners slip remind them gently, and don’t make an issue out of it – most children will not be able to fully master mealtime manners until they are around five years old.