Child development and mealtime – Part 1

Mealtimes teach more than just manners and conversation, they instill a sense of self within a child by acknowledging their hunger cues.

Who would have thought that you can help a child develop a sense of independence during mealtimes? The old saying of forcing a child to “clean their plate,” may not be the best way to support child development. Michigan State University Extension recommends that children are taught to read their hunger cues, to tell if they need more to eat or if their hunger has been satisfied.

Children’s hunger cues include:

  • I’m hungry: A child’s tummy feels empty because they have not eaten enough.
  • Just right: A child has enjoyed some food, but not too much.
  • Full: A child has eaten too much food.

A fun children’s game titled, Tummy Talk!, from can help a child to better understand the idea of hunger cues and what they mean.

Tips to help support child development during mealtimes:

  • Do not force children to finish foods in order to get another food or to be excused from the table.
  • Respect a child’s feeling of fullness.
  • Include children in helping with the planning and preparing of meals and snacks.
  • Teach children to clean up after themselves.
  • Be a role model by sitting with children, eating the same foods and talking about the day.
  • Let children enjoy and focus on their meal.

Children who are able to be responsible for themselves during mealtimes will develop a sense of self. Children who are told what to eat, when to eat it and how much to eat are not able to make their own choices. Giving children the opportunity to choose whether or not they wish to “clean their plate” helps a child’s development.

For more on children eating habits read part two of this article, which discusses emotional development that can be established during meals.

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