Chef Marshall often hears from parents about the challenge of having stress-free meal time with their kids. He experiences the realities of this himself with their two daughters and sometimes it’s easier than others.

Meal time is a critical time for the development of a child, not just for their nutrition but also for the social and interpersonal development this family interaction fosters. To minimize the stress and maximize the success of meal time, incorporate these helpful tips:

1. Create rituals – Both children and adults are creatures of habit. Following rituals/routines at meal time can help kids get into the pattern of meal time. For example, washing hands before eating, putting toys away, getting homework done beforehand, turning on soft music, etc. are repetitive tasks that can trigger a child to “get ready” for meal time—and it works for adults too!

2. Plan your meals – After a long day, deciding what to eat and how to make it happen may not be high on busy people’s mind. Using meal plans is an excellent way to save time and remove the guesswork and stress of getting a nourishing meal on the table. If you are looking for a simple meal-planning solution, check out our Smart Nutrition Cookbook and Meal Planner.

3. Eliminate distractions – Chef Marshall talks about this regularly. Children’s brains are not developed enough to be able to multi-task until they are 8-10 years old. If there are other things going on, they are most likely going to focus on them instead of the food, which can cause stress at the table. This is a slippery slope because many parents are tempted to use videos to distract a child in order to feed them. Chef Marshall admits to doing this at times in the past out of desperation to get his kids fed, but the focus should really be on conversation and interaction among family members.

4. Let them make choices – Children want to be in control, so allow them to make “guided” choices on what they want to eat. Allow them to choose either apple slices or grapes, but don’t ask the open-ended question, “What do you want?” because the answer is likely to be “Cookies”! The label “picky eater” is in large part perpetuated by the way parents and care givers interact with a child . That’s a bitter bite to swallow but it’s true. For more help with this issue, read the blog Five Tips If Your Child is a “Picky Eater”.

5. Leftovers are cool – Restaurants, grocery stores and food producers message to consumers that every day and every meal should be different. No wonder people get stressed out about meal-time when they think they need twenty-one different meals in a week! Chef Marshall regularly makes batch recipes like Lentil Stew so he can cook once and his family can eat many times. Leftovers can save a lot of time and thought while ensuring you have quick, nourishing solutions to feed your family.

In today’s busy, busy world, family meal time is rapidly disappearing. Incorporate one or all of these tips and within a matter of weeks you will have less stress and more success at the dining room table.