How to Encourage Children Who Are Very Slow Eaters to Eat Faster

You're on a roll this morning. Everyone's dressed, bags are packed, keys in hand, everything is ready to go and yet you're sitting at the table staring intently at your child as he takes another picky bite of food. He's a slow eater, and despite your best (or worst) efforts, he doesn't seem to ever be in a rush. Perhaps you can help your child eat a little faster and keep your sanity at the same time.

Be realistic about how long it takes a child to eat, and plan enough time for meals. While some kids are slower than others, a reasonable amount of time to finish a meal is about 30 to 45 minutes, according to the Student Health Service Department of Health in Hong Kong 1. If you find yourself rushing your child to eat any quicker, adjusting your expectations may help both you and your child relax, which can help him live life more at his own pace.

Talk to your child about the issue at a time other than mealtime. Discuss the need to put food away to keep it fresh, clean up the table and counters for later meals and move on to other activities. Ask your child what he might like to help with before, during and after mealtimes.

Spend special time with your child aside from meals. Although many slow eaters are just slow by nature, some children may seek attention through eating slowly, especially if mealtimes are when they get to talk to parents. Invite your child to help prepare meals through stirring, wiping the table and other tasks that are age-appropriate. After mealtimes, be ready to move on to another activity for a few minutes together and continue talking so your child knows mealtime isn't the only time you can chat.

Create a relaxed environment for mealtimes. If you're stressing about your child taking too long, he can probably feel it. According to Laura Markham, child psychologist writing for Aha!, when children are rushed, they may feel controlled and engage in power struggles. Instead of contributing to a food war, consider offering nutritious snacks throughout the day so that your child can graze. According to, eating healthy foods throughout the day helps to reduce low blood sugar swings, which could result in negative behaviors.

Set an example and eat together without distractions. Some kids may slow down while they eat if they are watching television or playing video games. Make mealtime "together time" -- or at least turn off the distractions and focus on eating. Enjoy the time you have with your child, teach him how to reduce stress around eating by doing it yourself, invite food ideas from your child and increase exercise to increase appetite.


Don't force your child to eat a meal. This can add stress and end up complicating the issue.

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