Do you all want some honest talk? Covid had us shook too. We as early childhood educators pride ourselves in understanding child development and staying current with research and best practice; but when we as people had to learn how to survive and keep safe during a global pandemic, best practice kind of went out the window a little. With a focus on keeping germs away, we shifted some of our practices and forgot about the importance of our original practices and the value they provide. “Family-style” eating was one of the practices, we are so happy to be bringing it back and here is why:
Where we were:
To eliminate the contact with food, we were plating children’s plates- choosing the food that went on their plate and how much they had. We did all the prep, we buttered their toast and put dip on the carrots. We were encouraging them to “try” the food that was on their plate.
In recognizing that a hangry child can not emotionally regulate, we had bread and wow-butter on hand for anyone who didn’t eat the original meal.
We were struggling to take care of ourselves- cause you know: the pandemic…. Not being our best selves, we found it hard to really read the cues of the children and to be who they needed us to be. We were happy that they weren’t hungry and happy that they were trying new foods.
Meal times were stressful.
What we forgot:
- Our role as supporters of children, is to offer them a safe space to explore flavours and textures, to learn about their body, hunger cues and full cues.
- Autonomy- Children feel empowered when they are able to make choices and be involved.
- When children feel empowered, they are more likely to engage.
- Being part of the process (building a taco, baking snacks, or spreading butter) is promoting self help skills and self esteem
- When we were asking children to “try” food, they were doing it to please us
- Children won’t starve themselves and we were creating unhealthy habits but adding option C (the bread).
- Children naturally gravitate towards carbs because they are consistent, both in texture and flavour. You know when you bite into a strawberry and its just not right.. out littles don’t have the experience to know that there are just some “bad apples”.
- When we plate food for children, it adds pressure. Allowing children to scoop their food or choose the food going on their plate elevates pressure.
The exciting news: IT’s NEVER TOO LATE TO CREATE NEW HABITS
“Family-style” dining is best practice when it comes to healthy eating habits. Before we dive into what this looks like, we want to define “family”, “family” is a group of people who care for each other- you may be related or not.
Family-style is comprised of a few elements:
*A group of people, sitting around a table together ( and this is not meant to shame any of you, because us busy parents know that this may only happen a few times a week)
- A meal being served in dishes, where people get to scoop their own choices on to their plate
- Conversation – about your day, what’s happening in life, a tv show- anything relatable and enjoyable
It’s your (the adult’s) role to decide:
• What foods you will offer to your child. It’s your job to offer healthy foods at meal and snack times.
• Where to eat. Sit down together for meals and snacks. Don’t rush. Turn off the TV and enjoy each other’s company. Setting the mood to be relaxing whatever that looks like for you and yours.
- When to eat. Toddlers do best when they know what to expect. They need 3 meals and 2 or 3 snacks at about the same times every day.
It’s your child’s role to decide:
• How much to eat. Your child knows how much they need to eat. It’s up to them to decide if they’ll eat a little bit or a lot.
• What to eat. They will choose what they eat from the healthy foods you offer.
- Whether to eat at all. It’s up to your child to decide whether or not they are hungry. Allowing the choice to be with your child it builds respect and a healthy relationship with food.
When your child is refusing to eat, asses your environment.
*Is there distraction?
- Are others sitting down eating with them or are they engaged in other things?
- Was it stressful coming to the table? What is the emotional vibe?
If your child is still refusing to eat remind them that you will save the food for them to come back to later.
Where we are now:
We are shocked at how much children are engaged in meal/snack times. They are choosing their food, preparing their food and trying new things!
Children are communicating- they are engaged in conversation, they are making requests, they are waiting their turn. (Hello language opportunities!)
Meal/Snack time are relaxed, we aren’t pressuring children to eat or feeling the pressure of getting them to “try”.
Meal times can be rough. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Stay consistent and forgive yourself when you have cereal for supper!