How to Create Mealtime Routines for Children

Creating Mealtime Routines

By: Dr. Beth
Date: March 21, 2022

Humans are creatures of habit, and a great way to help your child make progress with their feeding goals is to establish mealtime routines. This is one of the first things I teach families when we start working together in feeding therapy. There are several steps in this routine, and I will outline them here for you.

The first step in the mealtime routine is to wash your hands. When I teach cooking classes to older kids, we always learn that in order to prepare food, especially food that other people will eat, we need to wash our hands. Good old-fashioned soap and water is the best way, because this incorporates some sensory fun into the routine! However, hand sanitizer is a fine second option.

Next, we have to prepare our space for eating. This includes getting out all of our supplies- cups, plates, utensils, and napkins. This can be a great way to work on language development for younger children- can they identify the different items by name and/or function? Can they follow directions about where to place the items, or who to pass them to?

After we set our places, now we get to eat! My sessions usually target learning about new foods “family style”, so everybody will take a little bit of the foods we have to offer (including parents, siblings, and me!) Sometimes we will work on one or two foods at a time, other times children can tolerate more variety on their plate. I am aiming for 10 foods in a session, but sometimes we have to start with only a few and work our way up. I always incorporate rich language concepts into this part as well. We talk about the colors, shapes, sizes, and textures of the foods.

After all foods have been presented, passed around, and eaten, now the fun part- CLEANING UP! Children learn very early on that when foods go into the trash, they stay there and don’t return again. Kids are always so eager to help clean up! You can use an “all done” bowl, garbage can, or plastic grocery bag brought to the high chair or table. Initially, I just have kids pick up and throw away the foods on their tray or plate. However, we quickly advance to interacting with the foods in some way before putting them in the trash- we can break or smush with our hands, put into our mouth and “sneeze” into the trash, or bite them and then shoot rockets into the trash. Be creative and show excitement!

By incorporating these strategies into mealtimes, or a daily “snack routine”, you will see how quickly your child starts to accept new foods into their repertoire. Working with a skilled therapist can show you exactly how to establish a mealtime routine within the context of your own home. Feeding therapy is meant to be fun and engaging and these steps will help you to create a routine for your child.

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