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Speech and language at mealtimes

Mealtimes and snack times are not just a time for children to learn about different tastes and textures, but are a great opportunity for you to expand your little one’s vocabulary and help develop their speech and language skills. Here are some tips for how to make meal times even more valuable. 

When your child is eating, try using short simple comments to describe what your child is eating and doing. This makes it easier for them to pick up on some straightforward phrases that they can start to use themselves. Instead of asking questions, like “what are you doing?” and “what’s that?”, try using some descriptive sentences like this:

  • “Yummy biscuit”
  • “Spoon goes in your mouth”
  • “Yuck, sticky hands. Let’s wipe, wipe, wipe”
  • “You’re eating crunchy carrots” 

Think about using a broad range of word types when commenting on mealtimes. When your child has a range of word types in their vocabulary, it’s easier for them to start joining words together to create phrases. Here are some example of word types: 

Nouns: carrot, table, chair, plate, teeth, tongue
Action words: eat, slurp, drink, give, hold, eat, chew, sit
Location words: up, down, here, there, in, on under
Requesting words:
more, again
Describing words: smooth, crunchy, soft, big 

It can be helpful to think about your 5 senses when thinking of describing words at mealtimes: 

  1. What does the food taste like? Sour, sweet, salty, spicey, creamy, fruity
  2. What does it smell like? “Can you smell the fish cooking?”
  3. What does it feel like? Smooth, wet, soft, sticky
  4. What does it look like? Yellow, big, round, long
  5. What does it sound like? Crunchy, crispy, loud

Mealtimes also give you the chance to model exclamatory words and phrases, such as “yay” and “oh no”. These words are fun, easy for your child to copy, and use a wide range of early developing sounds. Many children will be able to say these words before they can produce functional words such as “more”, “no”, and “all done”. 

Here are some exclamatory words that you can try using during mealtimes: uh oh, oh no, yuck, ew, yum, yay, woo, awh. Don’t be afraid or feel to silly to use exaggerated facial expression and tone of voice when using these words! There’s a reason why we all do it - it encourages your child to look at you, listen more carefully and therefore, learn!

The Tiny Happy People website has lots of videos showing how mealtimes help children learn allsorts.

For more support and advice on your child's speech and language please visit our Speech and Language therapy pages.

About the author

Paediatric Speech and Language Therapist