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  • Writer's pictureLiz Elam, RD, LDN

10 Ways to Address Mealtime Struggles

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

The following is a repost from Mind and Body registered Dietitian, Liz Elam, originally posted at

As family feeding expert and registered dietitian, Ellyn Satter, puts it, “Being included in family meals is a privilege that everyone earns through positive behavior.” Let all pause and take a second to marinate on that. How powerful!

As a mother of a 5-year-old, 3-year-old, and 8-month-old, feeding is an endless chore. Family meals and planned snacks every two to three hours is exhausting and requires constant vigilance where I continually orchestrate and make it a priority. Negative mealtime behavior makes things one thousand times harder than it already is. But here’s the thing… we (as feeders) don’t have to tolerate it. Negative behavior usually stems from one of two things:

  1. The division of responsibility is being tampered with. As a reminder, the division of responsibility states that your job in feeding is to determine what foods are served, when the food is offered and where the food is offered. Your child’s job is to determine how much to eat and if they eat at all. If there are negative mealtime behaviors, it means that you might be trying to control something outside your role.

  2. Your child is finished. Enough said! If your child comes to the table with an appetite and can find something on the table to eat, then they will eat. Their attention will wonder once they are getting full and they will want to get down when they are completely full. We, as feeders, might want to keep them at the table (to chat, to eat more, “Just two more bites”), and that’s when negative behavior can arise.

I understand that negative mealtime behavior can arise from other things too… missed naps, non-food related tantrums, sibling arguments, bad days in general (we all have them!) but most negative behavior (being disruptive, whining or crying, begging for different foods, complaining) can be solved with these 10 statements.

I’m sure that one item on this list “hits home” with you. Maybe more? If you are really struggling with positive family mealtimes, pick one thing to work on at a time. Consistency is huge. Stick to your guns. Children learn and adapt very quickly; they start to understand the expectations in just a few experiences. Think about it this way. If your work on one item from this list every week, that would be 10 weeks – about 3 months. Three months to a dramatically more positive family eating experience. In the scheme of things, it’s not that long!


Satter, E. (2008). Secrets of Feeding a Health Family: How To Eat, How To Raise Good Eaters, How To Cook. Publishers Group West.



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