Mental Health

5 simple strategies to end dinnertime stress

Dinnertime.  It’s that time at the end of the day where a family can connect.  We sit together.  Eat our food in peace, and laugh throughout the meal.  Right?

Well, maybe not so much.  But that might be how we want it to go – or what we envisioned before we had kids.

Many parents and caregivers put pressure on ourselves when it comes to dinnertime: we feel like our child has to eat, or everyone has to stay at the table for at least 20 minutes, or everyone is very well-behaved.  I find there is a lot of pressure on us parents. 

But why is there so much pressure and what can we do about?  Let’s talk about this pressure and the  5 simple solutions to end dinnertime stress.

Why is there added pressure on dinnertime?

When we think about the pressure at dinnertime, I find that our society has created this certain ideal.  Many parents feel like dinner should be a meal where their child is eating a whole lot of food.  It feels like it needs to be the “main meal.” 

This is simply not true.  We put added pressure at dinnertime.  Just like every other meal or snack throughout the day, dinnertime is just one opportunity for our child to eat.

Why dinnertime can actually be the hardest meal of the day for kids (and adults)?

I don’t know about you, but my fuse after 5pm is definitely shorter.  And the same can be said for our kids. We have had a full day behind us, our kids have too, and tension can be high. 

We may feel the stress of the day, when we add that to preparing or getting dinner, and wanting it to be enjoyable and smooth – it often backfires. We feel pressure.

Let’s now dive into 5 simple solutions to end dinnertime stress.

Five simple solutions to end dinnertime stress

1. Remind yourself it is only one meal

Remember, your child has multiple opportunities every single day to eat, usually 5 or 6 (that includes meals and snacks).  Dinner is just one of those opportunities.  Some children don’t feel as much hunger at dinnertime because they have had a chance throughout the day to eat – this is all normal

2. Trust that your child can regulate their intake

Your child is good at regulating their needs.  They know their own hunger and satiety – trust in this.  Sometimes at dinnertime my child might eat one bite of their food, other times they might actually not eat anything at all.  But i don’t stress.  I trust.  I take off the pressure.

3. Don’t focus on your child’s eating at the table

What can you focus on at the dinner table? Play a game – and no, I don’t mean a board game – play eye spy or 20 questions, any type of game (or conversation) that keeps your child engaged. 

Talk to your child.  Don’t focus on the food – the less you stress about how much they are eating, the less they will stress as well.

4. Pressure doesn’t help anyone

I get asked a lot: if my child doesn’t eat dinner, I’m worried they’re gonna wake up hungry, or they’re not going to go to sleep.  I invite you to dive deeper here – is this actually happening? 

And if so, let’s chat 1:1 to talk about how we might be able to make a few tweaks.  But, more often than not, it’s the fear that they will wake up hungry that’s driving our feeling of pressure, so take it off, and let’s have some fun.

5. Think about afternoon or bedtime snacks

Let’s talk about snacks.  Just because we might feel hungriest in the evening doesn’t mean our kids do.  They may feel really hungry afternoon after school.  Why not make an afternoon snack resemble a dinner?  Or if dinnertime seems to be a crazy time for them, offer a bedtime snack. 

Don’t get pigeonholed in what dinnertime “should” look like.  To dive deeper into the idea of a bedtime snack, check out this post.

There you have it.  Five simple steps to end dinnertime stress.  Making subtle changes can have a huge impact on dinnertime stress.

Want to  learn how to not only have stress-free mealtimes, but also help your little ones try new food?  Download my free guide: 4 steps to help your little ones try new food, and have more joy at mealtimes.