Food Rules

Food Rules

What ‘Food Rules’ do you have at your dinner table? Lets face it, in order to get through dinnertime unscathed with young children, some rules need to be implemented so the entire act of sitting down to a family meal together doesn’t unravel into one complete mess! Dinnertime in our household usually looks a bit different from the norm as the kids eat separately to us due to my husband’s long workdays. However, these days, maybe that is not so unusual and the ‘family dinner’ (particularly during the week) may be less common as it once was due to parents working longer days and commuting longer, parents travelling more with global careers, the rise of the FIFO worker and children taking on more after school activities. Generally during the week, our children eat their dinner together and I sit with them to create the feeling of a family dinner, to enforce manners and to converse about their day. So of course, as my children are still young (6 and 4 years old), we have A LOT of table rules, but my expectation of whether the children meet these rules every night is quite low, however, they are still enforced to try and attempt good future habits. Here are our rules:


  • The ‘One Bite Rule’. Our children must at least try each food on their plate before they declare it to be ‘yuck’ and ‘disgusting’!
  • We don’t make the children finish everything on their plate if they are unable to. We let them determine if they are full or not. We don’t want to force feed them and we let them learn to regulate their own appetite and hunger signals. However, if they finish dinner and there is still food left on their plate, we don’t allow any snacks if they come back to us 20 minutes later with the ‘I’m still hungry’ line! If they finish all of their dinner (i.e cleaned the plate) and are still hungry for more food, then yes we allow them to eat something else. It is important to us that the children learn to sit and eat their meal and finish it if they are hungry, and not to finish it if they are full. We don’t want them to sit and force feed themselves if they really have had enough to eat, however we don’t want them just to declare they are ‘full’ because they get bored of eating halfway through and want to go and play!
  • No short order cooking. We all eat the same meal that has usually been decided by me! I will always try to include something in the meal that I know the children will like. Around every second week I will try and introduce something new for them to try. If either child refuses to eat their dinner, they go to bed without dinner. No alternatives are made.
  • Water only. I don’t want the kids having sugary drinks, nor do I want them filling up with milk rather than their food. So it is always water with dinner, and then they can have milk afterwards if they would like.
  • We don’t allow toys at the table for distraction (and also don’t allow TV), as I think being mindful of what you are eating is very important. Being aware of what you are eating and being able to gauge whether you are hungry or full is important to regulate your appetite, and distractions such as toys and TV interfere with this.
  • Manners! Eat with your mouth closed, use your utensils, say please and thankyou, and ask to be excused from the table when you have finished eating. However, we all have to stay at the table until everyone has finished eating. This one is particularly painful for my son as he is a much faster eater than his sister!
  • When you are eating dinner you must remain sitting at the table to eat – no getting up halfway through and expecting to come back! For some reason my kids have a massive problem with sitting for the duration of their meal without the temptation to get up halfway through and jump around! So if you get up, you lose your dinner!! When I enforce this rule it isn’t fun for anyone, but the children do learn that their bottoms need to stay on their seats!
  • Food isn’t used as a reward or a punishment. I don’t promise dessert if they eat all of their meal, nor do I make them eat broccoli if they have been naughty!! After dinner my children have a tub of yoghurt, however, they know that if they don’t have a decent attempt at their dinner (not necessarily finish it all), then they don’t get the yoghurt.


It is possibly a lot to expect a 4 and a 6 year old child to follow each of these rules every night, and of course it often difficult for them to do so, however if we set our expectations when they are young, then they will (hopefully!) grow up knowing the same rules and will apply them in and out of the household. Yes it can be painful at times, and yes they don’t always work, but given that I’m the one left manning the fort at dinnertime solo, it has to be done for my sanity!


What are the rules at your dinner table?

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