Begin by asking yourself: how do I feel about mealtimes?
In your home, is it a rush to get food on the table? Do you enjoy cooking and preparing food for yourself and your family? Do you automatically think of and dread the questions: what will we have? who will make the food? who will clean-up? Look truthfully at your own sentiments around dining and then consider what attitude you would like to engender in your child. Here are some intentions you might consider:
- a sense of calm and nourishment
- a time to slow down from a busy day
- a chance for conversation
- a gathering together with the ones you love
It is possible to go from a chaotic experience around meals to slowly, step by step, establishing form and rhythm, opportunity for you and your family to recharge.
We know that children are extremely sensitive to the emotional environment in which they find themselves. Consider using the word “dining” instead of “eating”. To me, it conjures a sense of the experience, not just the practical effect of putting food into one’s mouth. Children are attracted to beauty and interesting language catches their attention, they pause to listen. “Dining” feels special and includes items such as flowers, a tablecloth, cloth napkins (perhaps folded in a new manner), a candle. When guests visit, we always add place cards. From an early age, your child can decorate the cards then put them at each seat. Laying the table is a ritual that the young child enjoys; show her how to place the utensils, gather flowers for a bouquet, and when she is ready, she can use a pitcher to fill water glasses. There are many wonderful tasks that compose a dining experience; consider making a list for yourself of the details you would like to share with your child, and then invite her participation.
In these photographs we see children who are 2 – 21/2 years old dining together. This is a common occurence in a Montessori toddler community. We were fortunate to host an amazing Assistant to Infancy (AMI) trained teacher who led parent/child and parent/infant classes in our home. In the photo where we see one child dining, she has lovely breakable dishes with small servings of fruit — it’s a tea party! Notice the chair on which she sits, it is a sturdy “first chair” with a broad seat, which assists the child in establishing the routine of coming to the table and remaining seated for the duration of the meal. She is sitting up straight and feeding herself.
Here children are dining at a picnic table in the garden. Again please note the place settings: napkin, utensils, real ceramic dishes, and breakable glasses. There is also a tablecloth, a small bouquet of flowers, and most of all perhaps, a relaxed enjoyable opportunity for these four children to share an intimate space and experience delicious food prepared for their nourishment.
Lately I have become more conscious of pausing before I take the first bite. I stop to reflect on the preparation of the food before me. For a moment, I try to imagine how much effort, intention, and energy went into the growing and harvesting of my food. Teaching our children about pausing to notice, to allow gratitude to rise up from within, is heartwarming. When we stop and bring our full presence to the mealtime, we are communicating how important our relationship is to the other people at the table, as well as our relationship to the food. We are models for the children and they easily emulate what they see. When I give time for this awareness, I can discern more about the textures and flavors. As a result, I am deeply satisfied.
Thank you for joining me for the Family Life Enrichment blog of Heartmoor Farm Education Centre.