Stressed by Mealtime Stress!

A lot of parents I work with don’t necessarily want to be in my office. 

Don’t get me wrong it’s not because I’m not super fun, -trust me I’m really entertaining!

That said,  for parents it doesn’t feel great to admit that they’re feeling stressed by their meal time.  It kind of…well…..stresses them out!

Throughout my initial client conversations I hear a lot of:

“I don’t know why I just can’t get my kid to eat”

“I’ve tried everything but mealtime isn’t changing”

“I don’t like it, but my child won’t eat if I don’t force them to!”


Parents feel like they just can’t change the one thing they want to….and they’re not quite sure why. There are so many areas of parenting where we talk about mother’s intuition, that moms know best etc etc etc. How many times a day do you tell your kids you know what’s best for them?

And that is all too true- but not so much at mealtime!


As parents, many of the our most basic protective instincts may actually lead to more stress and reduce the likelihood that our kids are going to eat at all!!!!

Wanna know why you can’t seem to make the changes you want to at mealtime?  

It’s because you’re quite literally fighting against the most natural protective instinct to encourage your child to eat as much as you can. 

It’s not you, it’s biology.


An instinct that may only get stronger when experiencing meal time stress, because when we’re under stress we release our fight or flight response. Not the “truly take a couple of minutes and assess the situation to determine the best course of action” response.

If you’re being chased by a lion- you have:

🍽 Two options 

🌯Very little decision making time 

And that is where you’re going to be running as fast as your little legs can take you…not calculating risks and benefit ratios

When you’re stressed at mealtime the same biological systems kick in. This means, you might not be calculating and assessing the best possible outcome at this mealtime- you’re just reacting.

And when you’re stressed , there is good reason to assume that your kids are too, and their same stress response is firing on all cylinders.


When you’re running away from that same lion…you know what the one system that becomes completely irrelevant is? Hunger and Digestion. Yes you read that right, when your kiddos end up stressed at mealtime they actually end up less hungry than they might have been when they sat down at the table because when a lion is trying to eat you, it’s probably not the best time to sit down for a snack.


So now everyone is stressed, with parents showing it by trying to encourage more eating and your kids are showing it by refusing everything in sight. If that doesn’t sound like the recipe for disaster to you- I don’t know what does. As you can probably imagine, this stress leads to less successful mealtimes which leads to more stress tomorrow.  

Mealtime can be stressful and frustrating and so many other things! So here are three tips to start turning it around: 

  1. Really consider how you’re defining mealtime success. Is it just how many bites end up eaten? Or would a successful mealtime be one where everyone enjoys and participates? Pick one thing you would love to see at mealtime, whether it’s everyone taking a turn talking about their day, or everyone helping to put something on the table, anything that doesn’t revolve around food, and give yourself a pat on the back when it gets accomplished!
  2. Play poker like your life depended on it. Fake it til you make it baby!!!!!!! No matter how much stress you’re feeling, plaster on a smile and don’t let your kids see it! If you are feeling frustrated or upset by what is happening at mealtime, then keep a pad of paper next to you and write everything down to think about AFTER mealtime when your child is no longer around. The more your kids feel your stress and absorb it, the less successful your mealtime is going to be.
  3. Remember that improving mealtime is a process, and it’s not going to happen overnight. As you begin to work on making changes to your mealtime focus on ONE thing everyday that was successful or that went better today than it did yesterday, because we can’t expect everything to change all at once.

For more concrete strategies, tips and ideas to improve your mealtime be sure to join us

in my FREE Facebook Community at the Busy Moms Guide to Feeding Your Family