Food Rules for Families

As a father of a two-year-old, I get this question a lot:

What do you do when your son doesn’t want to eat something?

The short answer is that it depends.

Helping Your Children to Enjoy Meals

We have a couple of running “rules” in our house that are rarely broken in order to project a consistent message:

baby eating food

  1. Everyone at the table eats the same thing. We don’t make “special meals” or “custom orders,” unless there’s an allergy or special guests need to be considered.
  2. You eat what you’re served. If you don’t particularly like rice and eat all your meat first, you can be sure that you’re not getting up from the table until all the rice is done. Or, if you insist on not finishing the meal, it will get incorporated into the next scheduled meal time.
  3. You eat everything on your plate. Same as above, except if you better serve yourself what you can realistically eat and not a pinch more. There are always seconds if you need them.
  4. TVs, phones, computers, etc. are not acceptable at the table. Inevitably, guests and “newbies” in the family violate this rule and get the stink-eye.
  5. You don’t get up until everyone is done. Unless, of course, you volunteered to do the dishes and are hard at work, or the meals drags on for an unusually long time over dessert, tea and conversation.

If you think a two-year-old can’t understand these rules, I would argue that he absolutely can, and does. Even so, we do make exceptions once in a while when we need to be flexible:

  1. While we constantly encourage our son to taste new things, some things are just too spicy, difficult to chew or swallow, or otherwise unsuitable or unsafe for his palette. While we still often start by offering this new adventure, we fully expect him to rebel. We encourage him to try things, but have a backup ready at the table so it doesn’t look like we’re “giving in.
  2. There are days when unintended snacks between meals will ruin his appetite, even if the snacks were healthy. We take this into account when he’s particularly upset about having to eat something.
  3. While TV isn’t allowed, characters like Lightning McQueen or Thomas the Tank that “watch” him eat are more than helpful since they can “pretend-eat” and “comment” on his good or bad eating habits at will.
  4. The older our son gets, the more we expect from his patience in terms of sitting at the table. During particularly drawn-out meals, we will let him get up to play after a while, but thankfully he’s among the slowest eaters at the table and is usually the last to finish.

Discipline at the table is only a small part of the growth process during this tender age when toddlers test and prod your will and patience, but it’s something that can be practiced every day.

What are some of the table rules you had growing up? If you’re a parent, what rules do you practice today?