the ideal meal duration

As a parent or caregiver, you get to decide when food is served. As part of the “when” equation, you also get to decide how long the meal or snack lasts.

Some children take an extremely long time to eat. They can take so long that it cuts into other functions of life. These children need to learn that they don’t always have the luxury of dawdling when eating.

Other children have very little interest in being at the table and would rather jump back into the activity they were doing before the meal began. These children need to learn that mealtime is also family time. The child is not required to eat, but he is required to join the family at the table.

What is a reasonable time to expect a child to remain at the table? This is entirely subjective and depends on different factors such as:

  • Your child’s or children’s personalities (slow vs quick eater)
  • Your family’s schedule for other activities and obligations
  • Your child’s age. In general, younger children have a harder time sitting still at the table for longer periods of time

As a general rule of thumb, meals should last around 20-30 minutes. This provides children a significant window of time to eat enough food without feeling rushed. It is also not so long that it cuts significantly into other activities.


Take a look at your family’s unique situation and make a decision. What is a reasonable timeframe for meals?

If it has been a struggle to keep your child at the table or to get them to eat faster, inform them of the new rule. When first implementing the rule, you could set a timer for the amount of time you have decided on and refer to it during the meal if your children begin to complain or you notice a slow eater isn’t digging in.