Enjoy eating as a family!

Mealtime should be a relaxing and enjoyable time together as a family, but for families with young children it can be one of the more stressful times of the day. How can you make mealtime less stressful and more enjoyable again? Here we share 3 simple tips that we hope can help you and your family.

Tip #1: Get your child involved in the preparation of the food

Oftentimes, meal prep feels like a chore – just another thing we have to do. It can be difficult to find something for your child to do that will hold his attention while you do meal prep. It can be hard to keep an eye on your child AND the food. So why not let your child help in the kitchen?

Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori method, said that young children see what their parents and caregivers are doing and want to mimic them. Usually, we adults think that it means we should give the child a play kitchen so they can pretend to prepare food. Montessori tells us, though, that it actually gives the child no satisfaction. The child wants to use his hands to engage in work. Unlike adults, the child does not feel like such work is a chore, but he finds it enjoyable. Moreover, using his hands helps the child develop.

If this is the case, then we should allow the child into the kitchen. Of course, precautions should be in place so as to make the environment safe, child-accessible, and child-friendly.

    • Use cabinet locks on cabinets that only adults should open
    • Make an area on a shorter shelf or in a cabinet that the child can reach that has tools for the child to use
    • Have child-sized tools (blunt knives, peelers, mixers)
    • Have a kitchen step stool (sometimes called a learning tower stool or a little helper tower) so the child can reach the countertop

Involving your child in food preparation also comes at a price. Cooking might take a little bit more time than usual. Know how much your child will be able to do by himself without too much of your help. Be patient and enjoy the activity and time together with your child. It will also most likely be much messier. Be prepared for it, and also use it as an opportunity to teach your child how to clean up after himself.

Getting your child involved in the preparation of the meal will hopefully also get him more interested in eating it as well!

Tip #2: Let your child feed himself

Every child is different, but generally around a year old a child should be able to start eating by himself. Parents might think, “He can’t hold his utensils properly yet,” or “He will miss his mouth and make a mess.” It’s all a part of the learning process, though. Practice makes perfect. He needs practice holding the utensils. He needs practice coordinating his movements to get the food onto the spoon, and then into his mouth. He needs practice in self-control and focusing on eating. The longer the parent feeds the child, the less practice he will have in these areas. The goal for parents should not be just to get through the meal, but to help the child’s development, and help the child towards independence.

Tip #3: Follow through with discipline at the table

Some of the stress that accompanies eating comes from the fact that children have not yet internalized table manners. Young children may enjoy dropping or throwing food or their utensils on the floor. Parents often pick up the utensils and return them to the child with only a warning. Your child may do this over and over again. Of course, their purpose isn’t to make you upset. Children enjoy repetition and their must be some reason they are interested in this act of dropping (perhaps it is the start of their early understanding of the laws of physics).

Rather than getting upset after it happens over and over again, you can try explaining, “When you throw your food/utensils on the floor it makes me think that you are finished eating. Are you finished?” If they respond “yes,” then you can have your child clean up his plate. If they respond “no,” you can explain that if it happens again, they will be finished. So if it happens again, you need to follow through and clean up his plate or have him clean it up himself. If you think he hasn’t eaten enough put it temporarily in the refrigerator, wait a while, and then ask if he would like to try again.

Your child may seem to lack the attention span to eat by himself. Mealtime should not be an event we rush through, though. Give your child time to eat. Your child might be distracted by other things going on during mealtime. Have your table clear of toys. Before meals, have your child clean up his toys so he doesn’t get distracted trying to go back to play too quickly or in the middle of eating. Try turning off the television while you eat. Interact and talk with your child about the food he is eating, about his day.

Let’s enjoy the family time during meals!

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