The stress of everyday life seems to bubble over at the end of the day when dinner time goes pear-shaped. The kids are tired, you are tired and the list of jobs you have to do just to get the meal finished seems endless. Stress and negativity can soon spiral out of control and we find ourselves in the middle of an imperfect meal.

It doesn’t even have to be dinner.  This can happen at breakfast when we decide we will do something a little different but the kids decide that they need your undivided attention.  You start the day frazzled even though you had the best intentions!


A great example of this is when you want to make a stack of pikelets for brekky.  You may have the best intention but they do require some extra attention.  Attention that the weet-bix and toast don’t usually demand from you. So, because you have spread yourself a little thin you end up with an “ok” looking stack and some “snow men” (2 pikelets that have run into each other), some “burnt crispies” or some “wrinkly faces” (because you impatiently flipped them too early).  These are still OK to put on the plate – food that is not perfect is always a great conversation starter!

Turning imperfect mealtimes into happy mealtimes by Play with Food #fussyeaters

The “snowman” pikelet resulting from rushed mornings!

So, when you are feeling frazzled at any mealtime opportunity here is a list of things to try out:

  • Take some deep breaths in, look out the window for 5 seconds or just think of your happy place (a cosy lane way cafe in Paris for me).
  • Put the food in the middle of the table as is – don’t worry about it looking pretty and it won’t get too cold while you get everything else done.
  • Spend at least 1 minute with the kids away from the table doing a re-set activity.  You get a bonus “You Can…” Jar printable full of ideas as a bonus with either of my parenting videos – “Is Screentime Sabotaging Your Mealtimes?” and “Positive Food Talk with Kids” – my go-to’s are star jumps, music or a quick detour outside for some fresh air.  I also like to break out a few yoga poses (as per our bedtime routine) or just a quick rendition of wheels on the bus with actions.
  • Let the kids serve themselves while I make myself a cuppa / cold water.
  • Join the kids at the table and think of something fun to talk about. And stay there with them.  I don’t model getting up and down from the table (as much as I can).
  • If it’s still not going well, find something funny about what is on your plate to talk about!  Use lots of tangible ideas about food and avoid emotional or negative talk.
Turning imperfect meals into happy mealtimes by Play with Food

If you are half-way through the mealtime when it starts going pear-shaped look for the root cause of the troubles.  You will find that if you prioritise your happiness and enjoyment of the meal, your children will start to follow suit.  Pay attention to the food you have made and they will follow suit.  Does everyone have something that they can succeed in eating?  What strategy have you got for foods they are not interested in touching? Is everyone set for success at the meal with respect to their comfort – cutlery, seating, positive eating cues etc?

I have 2 recipes on my blog that you may enjoy for making pikelets – these really simple “quick boost” pikelets and these zucchini pancakes that are allergy friendly.

What does your family like to do to “re-set”?  What root causes do you have questions about at your mealtime?


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