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Mealtime Strategies

Children are most successful when meals and snacks are scheduled and offered when the child is hungry.

Mealtime strategies for children


  • Meals should be routine and reliable

  • Children should have 3 meals and 2-3 snacks a day

    • Snacks should be treated as mini meals and should include healthy items rather than only sweets and carbohydrates

    • Encourage interaction with all foods offered (even non-preferred)

    • Initiate a “no thank you” bowl, encourage “kissing [the food] goodbye”

  • Start meals with the habit of the child and other family members always being seated

  • Limit meals to 25 minutes and snacks to 15 minutes

    • At the end of the allotted time remove all of the food and liquid and wait until the next meal or snack time (could be only 2-3 hours later)

  • Offer 4-6 ounces of a milk/calorie beverage at each meal and snack time

    • Do not give child any food or beverage (except water) outside of scheduled meal/snack times

  • Do not offer calories between meals and snacks (no liquid or food)

    • Offer only water for the 2-3 hours between meals and snacks

  • Turn off the TV, radio and put the pets in another place in order to reduce distractions during mealtimes.

  • Offer preferred foods just slightly different every other time – different color plate, different utensil, cut into different shape, add cinnamon, etc.

  • Offer soft solid foods the size of the child’s thumb for improved oral motor skill demands

  • Offer foods with increased sensory flavors for improved bolus transit

  • Practice serving food away from the container that the food is purchased in to reduce brand sensitivities and preferences

Download a one-page printable version of this information for quick reference.