Toddler Table Manners

Smiling toddler in high chair with pink cup and cereal
Your first foods journey with baby is exciting [but messy!], and once they’ve mastered exploring the flavours, textures, and colours of the rainbow it’s time to work on their table manners.

Your older children may be able to help by clearing their plate after meals, or by verbally using “please” and “thank you”, but what should you expect from a babe learning their place at the family breakfast table? We spoke with Megan McNamee, MPH, RDN from Feeding Littles, about first foods and table manners and today, we are sharing 4 of her greatest tips for teaching toddlers during mealtimes!

Teach Them!

If your little one is constantly throwing their sippy cup or trying to balance their bowl on their head [we’ve been there!], it may because they don’t know what to do with their plate or cup when they’re done.
I know it sounds very obvious, but babies and toddlers don’t necessarily know what to do with things when they’re done with them. And if you think about it – we don’t really tell them to put it back on the tray, we just assume that they would know that.
Megan McNamee, Feeding Littles
Gravity really is an amazing concept. Your little one is learning about the world around them – and watching their cup plummet straight to the ground from way up high is fascinating for a little mind. So, how do you minimize this behaviour? The Feeding Little’s team suggests putting a fun sticker or a coaster on your baby’s tray and showing them that when they are done eating, they place their cup on the sticker to show they’re done. You can even add a “clink” sound effect – that will really solidify the routine for them.

Ignore bad behaviour

We’ve all had kids do things at the dinner table that are downright hilarious. But what happens when everyone laughs? They do it again! And if this behaviour is not desirable, then parents must work extra hard to not laugh and to just ignore. So, try to save your laughter for after bedtime when you and your partner are catching up on the day. This way, baby doesn’t develop undesirable habits around mealtime that could hinder the food experience and family time.

So, how do you keep things light hearted? Megan suggests praising the behaviour you want to see, and ignoring the behaviour you don’t.

Easy as pie, right?
Don’t give it more attention because they will continue to do it over and over again. So when you say, “great job putting the bowl back on the place mat”, and “you’re doing an awesome job with your bowl right now” – you know, reminding them of what you want to see, that can help.
Megan McNamee, Feeding Littles

Include them

Are you involving your babe in the conversation, looking at them and interacting? Sometimes it can be hard to remember to do so when your partner is finally home from work and you have another adult to talk to. If you are wondering why your little one is acting like such a clown during dinner time it might be because they just want to be included in the family dinner dynamic.
You might notice that they do it [throw things] more often when they’re sitting by themselves for a meal. Maybe you’re getting your food ready and you’ve already got theirs plated. You put it down and suddenly they’re starting to throw things. It might be a sign that they’re kind of needing that attention from you and want to be included in the meal.
Megan McNamee, Feeding Littles

Serve a familiar food

“Ewww yucky” – is there anything worse than hearing that phrase from your toddler? Especially after you just cooked, cleaned, and created a meal you know they would love if they only took one bite? We all want our kids to explore and try foods, but that may not happen overnight. So, how do you avoid a dinner time meltdown? Megan suggests always serving a “familiar food” with each meal.
...Sometimes unfamiliar foods can be really overwhelming to them. But once they get going on something, anything on the plate, they’re more likely to continue to keep eating.
Megan McNamee, Feeding Littles
If your child sees something they are familiar with, they might just start chomping away and then, before you know it, they have gone ahead and tried a few other things on their plate as well. Try not to limit their palate and let them explore.

If you are looking for creative ways to get your picky eater to “taste the rainbow”, Megan suggests using dips to introduce new foods to your children – ranch, marinara, hummus – the options are endless! Serve a safe food with a new food and see how your little one begins to explore and enjoy.

Mealtime Ready

So, how do you feel? Ready to take on dinnertime? If you are looking for more great tips and suggestions for your family and mealtime, check out Episode 5 of our podcast, 40 Week to Forever. We dig in on sugar, dessert, baby-led weaning, and more!

This information provided in this article was taken from our podcast, 40 Weeks to Forever, where we spoke with Megan McNamee from Feeding Littles. She did a great job sharing her wisdom with us!

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