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How to create a mealtime routine for stress free feeding

How to create a mealtime routine for stress free feeding

Do your mealtimes feel like a WARZONE? Does your toddler show a disinterest in eating or lack of engagement in your family mealtimes? Toddler feeding can be extremely OVERWHELMING and STRESSFUL! And this is before you even get that meal on the table! Creating some structure around your mealtimes can be a great defence in the battle of mealtimes!

Routine is also critical in creating a POSITIVE and ENJOYABLE mealtime experience for your toddler and the whole family. 

Read on to find out WHY a mealtime routine is so important and HOW to implement one now! Regain some control back over your family mealtimes and reduce that stress!

What is a Mealtime Routine, and Why Does it Matter?

Put simply, a mealtime routine involves having a regular and consistent pattern to your mealtimes (where possible). There is a preparation activity, a beginning, middle and end to each MEAL and SNACK TIME.

Importantly, a preparation or transition activity signals to your toddler that eating is about to happen. This gets them prepared and ready to eat, ready to sit and focus on a meal and can help them feel a little more regulated.

Mealtimes are not just about eating. They are a place for learning about socialising skills and food, connecting and building relationships within the family and developing manners.

Having a repetitive and consistent pattern to your mealtimes provides an opportunity for learning and the familiarity that comes with this provides reassurance and comfort to your toddler. When they know what to expect they are much more likely to feel SAFE and SETTLED during the mealtime. 


family dining

Generally you would aim for about 10-15 minutes for a snack and 20-30 minutes for a main meal.

Preparation (transition activity)

This activity signals eating time is coming. It can also help to regulate your toddler and calm them for the mealtime. An example might be giving a verbal warning, singing a special song or a dance then washing hands. Aim for around 5 minutes.


Setting the table and serving marks the beginning of the meal. Using the same table and chairs, tablecloth, placements, plates and cutlery can provide that repetition and familiarity that your toddler needs to learn. Aim for around 5 minutes.


This is the fun part. Eating together! They need to see you eat as part of the learning process. Aim for around 10-15 minutes here. Your toddler is still learning to eat so they need some time but if this goes on for too long they will lose interest. 


Cleaning and packing away activities provide a concrete end to a meal. This can reduce the panic your toddler may feel if the meal seems endless. Allocate different jobs to each family member. For example, putting away placemats or stacking the dishwasher. If your toddler has not eaten much during the meal this could be the only time they actually interact with the food without pressure! This is still so important! Aim for around 5 minutes

End your mealtime battles now!

Your toddler’s ability to engage and feel comfortable during a mealtime can be influenced by the environment and the mealtime set-up! Creating some simple structure around your meals and snacks provides a consistent and familiar pattern to enhance learning and promote a more positive mealtime experience! 


Need Help with Mealtime fuss?

Do you feel like you could implement some of these strategies during your mealtimes? If you still feel like you need more support, I offer 1:1 online consultations using these strategies and many more, providing personalised support for your toddler and family.

Alana Dooley -Fussy eating Dietician

About the author

Alana Dooley
Alana is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist with a special interest in fussy eating in toddlers. She also has a 20 year background as a Registered Nurse. Alana works online 1:1 helping parents tackle stressful mealtimes so they can become more confident in feeding their toddler and foster a positive feeding relationship for their toddler to enjoy a varied and balanced diet for optimal growth and development.  You can contact Alana here to book your 1:1 appointment.

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