8 Hacks to Reduce Stress During Mealtime with Babies and Toddlers (Plus Sample Feeding Schedules)
Updated: Jun 20
Part of my job as a mom (and I’m guessing part of yours too) is to make food every day that is affordable, nutritious, quick, easy, and tasty! Wow! Not to mention, I’m supposed to do this with a baby on my hip, toddler under foot, and managing the 5:00 pm power struggles and toddler meltdowns calmly.
I know I’m not alone in the struggle for feeding a baby and a toddler day in and day out. And because I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as too much advice when it comes to feeding our tiny human beings, I’m here to share what feeding hacks are working for us right now. There are probably many more tips beyond 8. But this is what’s working in my kitchen and dining room table. It could likely change next week!
Save your screen time!
I know that pediatricians tell us that it's a bad idea for children to watch TV or use mobile apps before age 18 months. However, TV can be a very helpful tool if used in a smart way. And that’s just what it has become for our family. Usually, at around 4:30 pm, L (my 2 year old) starts to get tired and hungry and on the verge of his witching hour meltdowns, so I turn on a show for him and I have baby girl sit on the kitchen floor with some toys or safe kitchen utensils. Most of the time she ends up on my hip right before dinner is served around 5 pm.
That gives me thirty solid minutes to prep or finish up dinner. Because we mostly limit TV outside of that time, my son is excited to sit down and watch instead of grumpily begging at my feet for a snack (on most days!)
We turn off the TV and put away other electronics once meals and snacks are served. Sure, they might eat a bit more in front of the screen, but it isn’t just about what and how much they eat. It is also about allowing them to be aware of what they are eating and teaching them to see mealtime as social occasions where they will be required, as they get older, to have good manners at the table at home and in public places. Please, don’t feel judged if you have screens on while your child eats. That’s most definitely not my intention in sharing this. Rather, take this as a call to check your long term priorities and expectations for your little one when it comes to mealtime.
Be realistic with your expectations
For a toddler, we really only can expect them to sit at a meal for 10-15 minutes (including eating time). Some may even get enough to eat in less time. After that, they have a tendency to create such a commotion that it spoils the meal for other family members.
Even when you make meals pleasant, most kiddos at this age will have a hard time with sitting at the table for much longer than that. They have teeny-tiny attention spans and a low ability to sit still. And that's OK! It’s developmentally appropriate for their age!
For babies, you should plan to sit with them during a meal for a good 20-30 minutes, or as long as they are happy sitting in their chair. It’s important your baby has time to experiment with their food, to squish and squeeze, as well as taste everything they want to.
Do not rush them through their meals, or force them to sit at the table for longer than they need. If you get impatient waiting for them to finish their food, my best tip is to try to eat together so you are occupied with your own meal, and some of the pressure is removed from your baby’s eating pattern.
Make sure your toddler is hungry by the time the meal is served but that your baby is not!
Parents often serve dinner too close to afternoon snack or let their kiddo graze throughout the day. Toddlers and older children need to be hungry (not tantrum hungry… just enough) in order to want to eat. Serve meals 2½ to 3 hours after the last meal or snack, so that they have had a chance to get hungry.