‘Mealtime is not just about nourishment; it’s an opportunity to foster positive habits, communication, and family bonds. Instead of resorting to the routine “Eat your veggies” or “Clean your plate,” consider trying alternative phrases that can transform your child’s dining experience. Here are 10 alternative things to say to your child at mealtime for a more enjoyable and positive atmosphere.
1. “Let’s talk about our favorite part of the day”:
Encourage positive conversation by shifting the focus from food to sharing positive experiences. This not only distracts from any mealtime resistance but also creates a space for open communication.
2. “What colors can you find on your plate?”:
Make mealtime interactive by engaging your child’s senses. Encourage them to explore their food visually and appreciate the vibrant colors on their plate. Even if they don’t want to touch the food just yet- talking about what they see (and even looking at believe it or not!) is a great first step!
3. “Why don’t we try a new flavor together?”:
Introduce an element of excitement by suggesting a taste adventure. Trying new foods together can be an enjoyable and shared experience, helping your child develop a more adventurous palate. It’s also a great chance to model good langauge around mealtimes.
4. “How does this food make you feel?”:
Encourage mindfulness by asking your child to pay attention to the sensations and flavors of the food. This not only fosters a healthy relationship with food but also promotes self-awareness. A lot of our kids use words like good, bad, gross, tasty– but what does that even mean? We prefer kid to describe using more ‘scientific’ words (like the shape, color, texture, aromas, etc)
5. “Can you help me set the table?”:
Involve your child in the preparation process. By including them in setting the table or even helping with simple meal preparations, you instill a sense of responsibility and pride in the mealtime routine. That ownership piece is really key!
6. “What shape do you see on your plate?”:
Turn mealtime into a learning opportunity by incorporating shapes into the conversation. This can make the experience more engaging and educational for younger children. It may not even be a shape! A piece of shaghetti may look like an elephant trunk. Encourage kids to look closer and find something silly.
7. “Are you still working on that?”:
A lot of times rephasing a commonly used phrase and putting a ‘less pressure spin’ can make or break a meal! We commonly hear parents say “Did you eat all your food?” which implies that you won’t be happy unless they “clean their plate”. Asking if they are still eating or working on their food is a gentler way to ask the same question that takes the pressure off.
8. “Tell me about the textures you notice”:
Encourage sensory exploration by discussing the textures of different foods. This not only adds an extra layer of engagement but also helps your child become more aware of their preferences. It’s also a great time to shift word choice from words like ‘yucky’ to ‘wet’ (for example).
9. “What would you like to see on the menu next time?”:
Empower your child by involving them in decision-making. This can be a fun way to plan meals together, ensuring that their preferences are taken into account. Again, that ownership piece is really a key factor in their growth and the buy in to enjoying mealtimes and food in general.
10. “It’s okay if you don’t like it; your body may not be ready to like it just yet- we can try something else next time”:
Create a non-judgmental atmosphere by reassuring your child that it’s okay not to like certain foods. This reduces mealtime stress and fosters a more positive attitude toward trying new things in the future.
11. “You’re fine”:
I’m so guilty of this one personally! But I try my best to catch myself and rephrase. By telling our child they are ‘fine, we are saying essentially that their feelings don’t matter. Grown ups will tell you what to feel. A better way to approach this is to ask them “Tell me what you are feeling” so they can work through the feeling rather than suppress it- which solves nothing.
Transforming mealtime into a positive and engaging experience involves more than just the food on the plate. By incorporating these alternative phrases, you can create a nurturing environment that encourages communication, exploration, and a healthy relationship with food for your child.
For parents seeking more guidance, consider taking our free quiz to assess if your child might benefit from additional assistance. If you’re already aware that your child could use some support, our “Unlocking Mealtimes” workshop is a low-cost option at just $20. This workshop delves into understanding your picky eater’s archetype and provides actionable strategies that you can implement right away to turn things around.
For a more in-depth exploration of this topic, you can also explore my book, “Mealtime Mindset,” available on Amazon. In the book, I delve into the psychology of changing words to change mealtimes, offering valuable insights and practical tips for creating a positive dining atmosphere.
Together, these resources aim to empower parents with the tools and knowledge to make mealtime an enjoyable and nourishing experience for the whole family.