As a parent, you know this for sure: meals are a daily cycle of struggle and resistance.

Most parents think mealtime struggles revolve around food.  But they might not.  Mealtimes take a lot of heat because they’re emtionally charged events: you’re trying to socialize your little monsters and keep them alive. Sometimes these two goals work at cross purposes.

If you’re exhausted by the task of teaching your kids to eat right, I’m not surprised!

Consider how many mealtime rules your toddlers encounter (and which you reinforce) each and every time they sit down to eat.

There are rules about:

  • When they can eat.
  • What they can eat.
  • What order they should eat their food in.
  • How much food they can (or cannot) eat.
  • Timing of intervals between eating.
  • Speaking while eating.
  • How they must eat (with cutlery not fingers).
  • Whose plate they can eat from (their own, not their brother’s).
  • Keeping hands and feet away from others (and feet off the table).
  • Appropriate bite sizes.
  • Touching food they don’t intend to eat.
  • Using ketchup and other condiments.
  • Playing with toys at the table.
  • Eating food that has been dropped on the floor.
  • When and how often they can have dessert.
  • What to do with unwanted food: Scream about it, throw it, or ignore it!
  • What to do with scraps and bones.
  • When they can have second servings.
  • Making polite conversation.
  • How to set the table.
  • Clearing/cleaning the dishes and table.
  • When and how they can be excused from the table.

And the list goes on…

(My favorite rule is the one I had to teach my daugther when she was 2: no eating butter by the fistfull)

How smoothly meals go is a function of how contrary or ornery your child is feeling on any given day—and how you respond.

Children resist and contest adult authority.  That’s what they do. But some days kids resist a little more than others.

If you find yourself in a constant struggle with your children at mealtimes:

  1. Identify the source of the struggle. Don’t assume you’re fighting over the food, even when it seems like you are.
  2. Figure out how to empower your child so he doesn’t only feel subjected to the rules. Rather he takes some ownership of them too.
  3. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.  Figure out which rules matters most and enforce them. But remember that kids usually eat better when they behave better.

Constant negotiating and resisting aren’t all bad. 

It’s through this process that children develop a sense of themselves and their place in the family (if not also their place in the world).

But it can sure be a pain in the neck!

Read Raising Lawyers.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~



Grieshaber, S. 1997. “Mealtime Rituals: Power and Resistance in the Construction of Mealtime Rules.” British Journal of Sociology 48(4): 649-66.