Talking During Meals and Snacks

Meal and snack times are important times to eat and talk together. Plan to make eating a relaxed and social time that helps children enjoy healthy food. Encourage children to talk about food and eating.

Encouraging Toddlers to Talk about Food and Eating

Toddlers communicate with a combination of gestures and words. Toddlers may point to a food they want or knock away a food they do not want. The role of the adult is to be patient and try to understand what the toddler is communicating. Here are some tips for doing this:

  • Expand on toddlers’ one and two-word communications and build sentences around their words.
  • Give toddlers one direction at a time. For example, “You can sit in the chair next to me.”
  • Make the most of daily routines and talk through the sequence in which they will happen. For example, for hand washing before and after meals: “First I’ll turn on the water. We will add the soap. Rub your hands together to get rid of all the germs.”
  • Reinforce with word labels what the toddler is doing.
  • Label toddler emotions.

Quick Tip: Talk less if children are having a hard time focusing on eating while talking.

Encouraging preschoolers to talk about food and eating

Preschoolers talk in sentences. They often talk to themselves when they are alone or working on tasks. They like to talk about their experiences and have imaginary friends. Here are some tips for encouraging preschoolers to talk about food and eating:

  • Ask questions about past events and probe for details. For example, “Tell me about a meal you had with your family. Who was there? Where did you eat?”
  • Use explanations when you correct behaviour or offer alternatives, such as, “When you use the serving spoon, it is easier to scoop the mashed potatoes.”
  • Encourage talk about feelings, both positive and negative. Discuss possible causes for emotions.
  • Create opportunities to engage in fantasy and pretend play about food and mealtimes, either alone or with friends. For example, “Let’s pretend you are going to plan a meal for a firefighter/ princess. What would you serve? What foods do you think he/she likes? Where would you have the meal?”
  • Offer choices when you can, such as, “Would you like apple or pear slices?”
  • Encourage more advanced communications.

Offering healthy choices and helping children recognize their hunger and fullness.

Phrases that help:

“Yes, these pea pods are crunchy!”

“These are ___ (A new food such as asparagus spears). See what you think.”

“Do you like that?”

“Would you like more?”

“Is your stomach telling you that you’re full?”

“Use your napkin.”

Try this:

“This is a kiwi fruit. It’s sweet like a strawberry.”

“Please move the serving bowl closer to your plate.”

“These oven fries are different looking, aren’t they? I made them from potatoes and baked them in the oven.”

Table talk topics

As discussed, meal and snack times are important times to eat and talk together.  Here are some "table talk" topics to make eating a relaxed and social time:

“What did you do on the playground today?”

“Tell me the best part of the story your teacher read today.”

“What is the best thing that happened today?”

“If I lived on a tropical island, I’d eat___”

“Talk about a good thing you or someone else did.”

Inappropriate comments:

“Eat that for me.”
“I wish you were a good eater like Sally.”
“You’re such a big boy—you finished all your carrots.”

“See, that didn’t taste so bad, did it?”
“You have to take one more bite before you leave the table.”
“Sam, look at Nathan. He ate all of his bananas.”
“How do you know you don’t like them if you haven’t even tried them?”