Mealtime Langauge Swaps

Posted by

Breanne Haeger, MOT, OTR/L

Time to read

3 minutes

Do you ever feel like your mealtime conversation is just a broken record of “eat it”, “take a bite”, “try it”, “you’ll like it”, and “eat your food”!? It can feel like the more you ask your child to eat, the more they do everything BUT eat. 

We feel your frustration!

What if we told you that by switching up your language just a bit, you can help your child feel much more comfortable trying and eating new foods? 

The major ideas of these swaps are: reducing pressure, creating invitations to explore, comparing to preferred foods, and using neutral descriptors. 

Here are some simple switches you can make to reduce pressure and create invitations to learn. 

“Just take a bite.” → “When I bite it it makes a big CRUNCH sound! What sound does it make when you bite it?”
“I’m going to pretend my [food] is chapstick. (demonstrating swipe over lips, then licking lips). Ooh it’s [sweet/salty/etc] chapstick! You can put on chapstick too!”
“Here are some apples. Are they sweet/juicy/cold/crunchy?”
“You can take a bite and spit it out if you want”
“You don’t like it? ”→  “That was a big taste, you look surprised!”
 “That’s ok, you’re still learning about [food]”
“Great job trying a new food, look you have more [preferred food]”
“It looks like that was a big taste/feeling in your mouth. You can take a sip of water. ”
“Try the carrot. You’ll like it”→Relate to items/foods they are familiar with to create more safety and comfort surrounding a less preferred food. 
“It’s orange like goldfish!”
“It’s a stick like a french fry!”
“It’s crunchy like chips!”
“I’m pretending it’s a crayon. What can you draw?”
Child: “But I don’t want (____) for dinner.” Adult: “Too bad. That’s what we have.” OR “Ok, what do you want?” →“I hear you. It’s my job to decide what goes on the plate. It’s your job to decide what goes in your belly.”
“That’s ok. We’ll just leave it here on your plate to look at, you don’t have to eat it. You have [preferred food that is already on plate].”
“Want to help me [task involving food: scoop it on plate, wash prior to cooking, etc.]?”
Child: I want ___ for dinner! Adult: “Ok, I’ll make you some ___ if you promise to eat it.” →“That’s not on our menu for dinner tonight. I’ll put it on the menu for tomorrow.”
“Oh, I like [food] too, I wish it was on our menu tonight– but tonight it looks like we’re eating [food]. When we go to the store next you can help me pick some out.”

We hope you give these simple swaps a try and see how the whole meal time dynamic shifts. Be creative and see what works best for you and your little one! There’s no “correct” response 🙂 As always, this takes practice because these statements can be so engrained–progress over perfection!