“The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society except the minuet.”– Judith Martin
Mealtime is a special time both in the classroom and at home. The primary focus at that time should be on the food being eaten, without distractions of technology or multitasking.
Dinner with young children can be tough sometimes as they could still be teething, figuring out how to chew, trying most foods for the first time etc. Adult preferences and reaction to child’s eating patterns could play a big difference in how the child would react to the food. When a child resists the food by showing no interest to self-feed themselves or by playing with it, adults may get upset and either yell or force feed the child. This would create a negative connection between the child and the food. Over a course of time, this could build and cause the child to be a picky eater.
Why do children sometimes seem like they are not interested in eating lunch or dinner?
There could be several reasons for it:
- Ate a heavy breakfast or too much snack right before lunch/dinner
- Child was playing or in the middle of an activity- they consider mealtime an interruption
- Different mealtime schedule
- Figuring out their taste buds
- They are upset because its not their favorite food
- They feel restricted in their chair
- and much more ….
Want to make Mealtimes peaceful and more meaningful?
Here are some Montessori inspired tips to help achieve it.
Get child involved: Based on age and ability of the child, get them involved in one or more ways in meal preparation. Montessori Practical life includes activities like Food Prep, Table setting, dish washing etc. Get children to set a table, place dishes on placemat, pour water/juice, place serving utensils on table, wash fruits and vegetables etc. They would feel part of the community and feel more inclined to eating
Montessori weaning table: When child is eating a meal by themselves including a snack, offer a Montessori weaning table. It provides independence to the child by giving them an opportunity to climb into and out of the chair themselves while encouraging their participation in the process of eating. This can easily by substituted with a high chair at the family dinner table, when the child is eating a meal with the family.
Use a placemat: Encourage child to set the table and help them with the order of utensils to be placed on it, this helps give them a sense of order
Use child-sized tableware: Provide real china, glass and metal tableware in child size. This will make it easy for the child to handle while also helping them learn real life skills.
Short mealtime: Keep child’s age and ability in mind while planning family mealtime: keep it short to avoid meltdowns.
Portion and Textures: Offer smaller portions of a variety of food textures to help meet the child’s sensory development. This will help child explore and be open to different food items without the pressure of finishing big portions of the same food.
Encourage self-serving: Have child serve themselves- this will help them understand the concept of “self-regulation” and reduce the chances of overeating. This also offers some amount of independence to the child and prevents wasting.
Use appropriate words: Avoid words that might pressurize the child and prevent a positive correlation between them & the eating process. Phrases like “you need to try one of the two”, ” you have to finish it” or “take one more bite” can be replaced with ” You tried it even though you were not sure about it”, “looks like you are done” etc.
Avoid bribing: Food should be eaten when someone is hungry. Bribing defeats the purpose of what mealtime should be all about. Don’t associate specific food types like sugar, candy, icecream as special treats that are provided when the main meal is done. Everything in small portion should be available to the child without any preferential treatment for one or the other.
Include child in meal time prep, offer some options for independence, be consistent with the schedule and enjoy mealtime with them.
Another key thing to consider while doing “mealtime with children” is to keep children off the screen while eating. Child’s work at mealtime is to eat and experience it. When the TV or ipad/phone or any electronic gadget is placed in front of the child , they become disconnected from their food. The hand and body coordination is restricted preventing the child from bonding and making a positive connection with the food.
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