Top Ten Rules for Mealtimes

New York Times bestseller author Jo Frost, a.k.a. Supernanny, has some excellent advice for parents. While I don’t agree with everything she does I believe her ability to capsulate her philosophy into her TOP TEN RULES is useful.

Here are her TOP TEN RULES as applied to eating and mealtime issues with young children (pages 142-143 of her book Supernanny)

Praise and encouragement are the best rewards. Don’t wait for exceptionally good behavior—praise the good moments when they happen. Don’t use snacks as bribes. Don’t praise a child for eating second helpings.

My rule is: Encouragement is vital. Praise good behavior and character—not talent.

Stick to the same rues and follow them through. Make sure you and your partner are consistent. If you insist on “three more spoonfuls,” don’t change your mind under pressure and reduce it to two, or one. Don’t gie a child a snac if he hasn’t eaten his eal—that’ a mixed message and a half!

My rule is: Be consistent in your expectations and your consequences.

cereal-898073_12803. ROUTINE
Don’t shift mealtimes around drastically. Meals are a cornerstone of your routine. When children are older, you can be a little more flexible. Half an hour earlier or later won’t hurt.

My rule is: Almost all children thrive on routines.


A set mealtime is an important boundary. So are agreed-upon rules for sitting at the table and basic behavior. Boundaries help you to take the emotional heat out of mealtimes.

My rule is: Start early while children are toddlers to teach them expected behaviors related to meal times. Kindly enforce those “rules” at home and away consistently.

Don’t discipline a child for not eating. Do discipline for unacceptable behavior at mealtimes, such as hitting, throwing food or refusing to sit at the table. Use the Naughty Step Technique.**

** Also known as Time-Out. The key to its effectiveness is consistency.

My rule is: Use misbehaviors and bad table manners as opportunities to teach. If behavior seems repeated or intentional remove the child from the table (a.k.a. Time Out) for a short time until she’s ready to behave nicely.

Give plenty of advance notice when a meal is coming up so your child has a chance to prepare for the change in activity. Don’t expect her to settle down immediately at the table if she has been running round the garden. Allow a period for her to calm down first. Give an advance warning if she has been naughty, so she has the chance to correct her behavior.

My rule is: Give children 5 minutes or so advanced notice of mealtime. Then get everyone seated, still and quiet before you begin the meal. Holding hands around the table and asking a short, simple blessing on the meal is an excellent cue that it’s now time to be quiet and respectful and enjoy our family meal.

When your child has behaved badly at the table, explain that the behavior is unacceptable and why. Don’t however offer complex explanations to toddlers. The reasoning will just sail over their heads.

My rule is: Begin teaching table manners and rules when children are young. For toddlers and preschoolers, the shorter and simpler your explanations the better. A simple, “That’s our family rule” or “That’s the polite way to do it” will suffice. As children grow older you can offer short and simple explanations about good manners and respect for other people at the table.

Ignore passing food fads. Fussy eating is about attention-seeking—ignore it. Keep offering variety, and don’t allow your kids to write their own menus. At the same time, don’t make your dislikes their dislikes.

My rule is: Offer them a variety of foods. Require them to taste new things. Don’t offer substitutes for foods they dislike. Try to have something on the menu that the child does like (other then dessert.)

child-1528308_1280-29. RESPONSIBILITY
Encourage your toddlers to feed themselves, even if it takes longer and makes a mess. Teach them to say “Please” and “Thank you.” Involve older ids in setting the table ad other simple tasks.

My rule is: Offer toddlers and preschoolers finger foods, or foods cut into pickupable pieces. You are encouraging independence. Definitely involve preschoolers and up in preparing for meals and cleaning up afterwards.

Mealtimes should be fun and sociable occasions. Try to eat together as a family as much as possible.

My rule is: Definitely eat together as a family at least once each day. Use the time as an opportunity to teach children how to carry on conversations and how to treat each other with respect. Relax. Every meal doesn’t have to be gourmet or perfectly balanced. If preparing simple meals makes the event more pleasant for everyone, DO IT!


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