From weaning, mealtimes and children in the kitchen the topic of food can be complex. We need to understand that food is far more than just sustenance as it represents culture, heritage, family, enjoyment and social interactions.
Here are our top tips for establishing a Montessori and lifelong healthy relationship with food and your child.
Weaning Once your child starts sitting up on their own and showing an interest in food, you may consider introducing a weaning table and chair. Maria Montessori believed that the environment must be suited to a child including appropriately sized furniture. A weaning table and chair offers a child a place of their own to sit and enjoy a meal independently and leave when finished. A simple cloth placemat is used to support a child’s sense of order for outlining the location of spoon, fork, plate and glass and consider using child-sized tableware of china, glass and metal.
Be prepared for some breakages and mess as your child develops co-ordination, explores natural consequences and develops independence. When your child is eating with the family you may use a highchair that pulls right up to the table so they feel included in social interaction and conversation.
Mealtimes. Aim to eat at least one meal together as a family to allow you to connect with each other throughout the day. Mealtimes also provide the opportunity for your child to help prepare food and set the table. They are times to relax, converse and savour food exploring textures and flavours. A child should not be pressured or forced to eat a food or finish a meal, rather encourage a healthy balanced meal and to sense satiation. Include safe choices in each meal such as “would you like carrots or beans?” This helps avoid power struggles and offers independence of self-serving a food of a child’s choice.
Children in the Kitchen. A child enjoys being involved in activities in the home and this includes the kitchen. Montessori in the kitchen involves having a low shelf or cupboard arranged with suitable equipment and food items/snacks for your child. From here they can lay their table or prepare a simple snack according to their skills such as spreading a cracker with butter, squeezing orange juice or pouring water for drinking.
Cooking with your child is a wonderful opportunity for developing a range of skills including fine motor and high order thinking skills. You may consider using learning tower or stool (once a child is standing steadily) to bring them up to the height of counter tops. Remember to always supervise your child in the kitchen, stand between your child and the cooker, consider child-safe knives, have plenty of cloths for spillages and have child-sized cleaning tools such as brooms. Recipes can progress from an infant sensorially enjoying the experience of observing, touching, tasting and smelling to toddlers peeling and slicing fruits and using scales to measure ingredients. You may often find a child is more eager to eat the food they have prepared themselves at mealtimes than that you have prepared alone.
Try to find the fun in food. See past the mess and remember that food is the ingredient that binds us together.