Picture of a young boy at a table with his cup and plate. The text reads "4 super simple language strategies to use at mealtimes".

4 Super Simple Language Strategies to use at Mealtimes

Coaching caregivers to use language strategies during mealtimes is a great way to support young children’s language skills. In this post I’m sharing 4 simple language strategies you can coach parents and caregivers to use during mealtimes.

Why should we use language strategies at mealtimes?

Mealtimes are one of my favourite times to coach parents and caregivers to use language strategies because they typically happen 3 times a day. This means caregivers have a regular time to focus and use language strategies. Rather than having to remember to do them in amongst their busy routines. (Plus you can use the same strategies during snack time too, for even more opportunities!).  Also, most of the time, young children are highly motivated by food, so it is a great time to encourage language skills!
Picture of a young child being offered two snacks. Example of the 'offering choices' language strategy to use at mealtimes.

4 simple language strategies to use at mealtimes during your parent-coaching sessions

  1. Offering Choices
    If there are options for what the child can eat or drink, encourage parents and caregivers to offer a choice of two things rather than anticipating their child’s needs and wants. For example, “do you want cereal or toast?” or “do you want milk or juice?”.  When coaching parents and caregivers to use this strategy during mealtimes and snack times, be sure to coach them to show the child the two choices as they say them. Explain to parents/caregivers that their child may indicate their choice by pointing, taking the item, vocalising, or using a word, and they should repeat the child’s choice clearly to them. I.e., if the child reaches for strawberries, you can say “strawberries”, “I want strawberries”.
  2. Commenting
    Mealtimes are a really language-rich activity. You can coach parents and caregivers to use both parallel talk and self-talk while commenting during mealtimes. Encourage them to talk about what they are doing, what things feel/taste/smell like, etc.  When commenting it is important to use simple words and phrases, for example “I’m pouring the juice”, “cold milk”, “yummy strawberries!”, etc.
  3. Copy and Add
    This early language strategy is great for supporting young children to use phrases and sentences. Coach parents and caregivers to repeat what their child has said and then add another word on, so they hear how to make their sentences longer. For example, child: “milk”, adult: “you’re drinking the milk” or “cold milk”. If the child uses two words, you repeat them and add a third, etc.
  4. Communication Temptations

    Communication Temptations are an effective way to encourage young children to communicate.  This simple early language strategy is where you structure or manipulate the environment in such a way that the child has to use spontaneous communication with another person, in order to get a desired item/resultThis blog post has more information about why and how to use communication temptations to support early language skills.
    Some Communication Temptations you can coach parents/caregivers to use during mealtimes and snack times include:
    – Give the child a small amount of their snack; you keep the rest of it. When the child has finished what is on their plate, wait for them to initiate an interaction to show that they want more. E.g., they may look at you, vocalise, gesture, or say a word to request more. You can then model (say) the word they need, e.g. “more crackers”.
    – Give the child an unopened packet and wait for them to request help opening it.
    – Give the child an empty cup and wait for them to request more juice/water/milk.
    – “Forget” to give the child a spoon with their breakfast cereal.
    – Pretend the snack is for you, not them- wait for them to stop you and request it.
    – Give them an empty bowl or spoon and wait for them to tell you it is empty.

Picture of a group of children sat around a table. An adult is offering each child a few pieces of strawberry. A visual example of the 'communication temptations' early language strategy.

Need more ideas for language strategies to use during daily routines?

As Early Intervention therapists we know the value of supporting parents and caregivers to use language facilitation strategies during daily routines.  We also know that there can be a lot of information for parents/caregivers to remember, so it can be really helpful to provide handouts after a session.  This set of parent-friendly early language handouts for daily routines provides easy-to-understand explanations for how to use 10 different language strategies during 23 different daily routines.  It is available to purchase now from my TpT store, and is also available in Spanish.

I hope you’ve found this round-up of 4 super simple early language strategies to use at mealtimes, helpful. Do you have any other language facilitation strategies that you like to use at mealtimes? Let me know my leaving a comment below!