At Vivvi, our snack and meal times are for more than just eating. We view this time of the day as an important communication and learning time. Based on decades of research, Vivvi teachers know that meal time offers opportunities for engaging in purposeful conversations to extend language and critical thinking skills and promotes fine motor strength as peer relationships are built and a foundation for healthy eating habits transpires.
These communal eating experiences begin even before the meal begins at our school. With infants, as they eagerly await for their bottle, self regulation versus instant gratification is practiced, as well as fine motor skills as they learn to use a grasping grip for bottle holding. And as teachers respond to their needs our babies become confident and secure.
With toddlers and preschoolers, during meal preparation, children practice 1:1 correspondence as they set the table and fine motor development to open food containers; extending their collaborative skills as they work together in a respectful way.
The same benefits of a group meal experiences at school benefit children at home. But with our busy lives and obligations- how can this be done? Here are some tips to help you get organized to discover the joys of family mealtime.
Use Helping Hands– Assign a meal prep job to each person in your family. For babies it can just be giving them a sensory bin activity that will keep them occupied while you start your meal prep. For toddlers and preschoolers it can be having them shred the lettuce for the salad or setting the table. By starting to introduce the idea of being a contributor to a family meal at a young age- as your child grows they will more likely continue to understand the necessity of being an active participant in daily family routines.
Menu planning– If your children are old enough, get them involved in meal planning. Participating in food selection, can motivate picky eaters to try different foods. In a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children were offered sweet red pepper and asked to rate how much they liked it. Then, each day for the next eight days, they were invited to eat as much of the pepper as they wanted. By the end of the experiment, the children rated the taste of a pepper higher than the first day and were eating more of it.
Cleaning up– As we know once a meal is done- that is when the real work begins! This is the perfect time to model the value of working together to achieve a common goal- a clean kitchen and will help your child gain a sense of responsibility and accountability.
Finding time to eat as a family might just be the ultimate learning experience for your child. As Henry Wasworth Longfellow said “a single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years of mere study of books” During your next family meal, enjoy the food and company as you nurture the roots of learning in your child.