Make mealtimes more peaceful: create a pre-meal routine in 4 simple steps

We often talk about a bedtime routine, or a routine prior to getting out the door in the morning. Routines help to provide structure and instill good habits.

A common hurdle I hear from families in my practice is that their children have a hard time transitioning to the table, most commonly at dinnertime. When dinner rolls around, it has been a long day (usually for everyone in the family) and getting little ones to sit at the table can be a challenge. Enter the pre-meal routine. Take a look at my 4 step plan which is sure to help make getting to the table a little less painful for everyone. I find preparing for the meal is often overlooked!

STEP 1: Provide a warning. Give children a warning (usually about 5 minutes) to let them know you will be asking them to come to the table soon. You are preparing them and letting them know that dinner is on it’s way.

Getting ready for dinner. Starting by washing hands.

Getting ready for dinner. Starting by washing hands.

STEP 2: Wash hands. We start our mealtime routine by going to the bathroom and washing hands. My girls love all things water, so they enjoy this task (most of the time). Sometimes, I place my hands on top of theirs and we wash together, this can be helpful for those kiddos that may need some additional sensory input and touch.

STEP 3: Help set the table. You may be surprised with the way a young child can help. We keep a set of plastic/ non-breakable plates, cups and silverware in a drawer low enough that both girls can reach. I ask them to grab a plate, sometimes they surprise me by also getting a cup and silverware, but whatever they aren’t taking to the table, I take myself. I try to have placemats on the table so the meal is ready to go.

STEP 4: Sit at the table. Once the table is set, we all try to sit together. We serve our food family style, so we place this on the table as well. I help both children into their seats and we get started with dinner.

There you have it! These are 4 simple tasks, that usually take about 5 minutes total. But the idea of preparing children for the meal can be so helpful, especially for children that may be more selective or have a harder times with transitions.

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For children that have a harder time with a routine, try making a storyboard: take pictures of them doing each task or have them draw pictures, and create a board with each picture so they can visually see what needs to be accomplished. It’s also helpful to try to have mealtimes at the same time each day.

When we complete this routine, I find I am in a calmer state going into the meal as well: I am not only preparing my children, but myself also!

Do you have a pre-meal routine? Let me know in the comments below!