Mealtime can be one of the most stressful and challenging times of the day. Not only does dinner have to be prepared, served, and cleaned up, but usually the whole experience is met with some sort of resistance, is it not? I’m here to give you some tips and tricks that will hopefully take you from mayhem to miracles.
The environment is a key component of mealtime success. The Montessori method has defined me as a mother, and this set up is straight out of its books. The low table and chair make the dining area accessible to the child. It provides opportunities for independence such as setting and clearing the table. The plants and wall art provide something lovely for the child to look at during meals. Here is the disclaimer: this worked perfectly with my daughter. She sat beautifully at the table as soon as she could sit up independently. My son has been a different story. This set up requires me sitting next to him so that he cannot stand up in, fall out of, or turn around backwards in his chair. I certainly have strapped him into the high chair plenty of times, because it’s not always feasible for me to be next to him. However, I use this set up as often as I can because I love what it does for the child. So often toddlers are moved, lifted, carried, etc. from one place to the next without much of a say. The opportunity for the child to prepare his place at the table and independently sit down and eat is HUGE. It promotes big feelings of accomplishment and independence, which goes such a long way in these little people.
This is an example of how to provide the opportunity for your child to set the table. This particular example is in a low cabinet easily accessible to the child. There is a small bucket for forks, a small bucket for spoons, and a stack of napkins (recycled burp cloths). The empty white basket on the bottom is where the dirty napkins go, and the basket of yellow wash cloths is for any spills. The entire set up is brought to you by Target!
A place mat such as this one serves as a kind of anchor for the child. I promise it will make a significant difference in your mealtime neatness factor. Children benefit from a solid visual reminder of how to organize everything at the table. You can order it here.
This is what it looks like when you put it all together. It’s like a real place setting for little people! More importantly, it gives our little ones a mealtime framework. Everything is purposefully chosen for their little hands in order to ensure the most successful experience. Target, Cost Plus World Market, and IKEA are great places to find small dishes and flatware. Remember that shot glasses and cocktail forks can serve as perfect utensils for the littlest diners. Don’t forget to make it beautiful! Believe it or not, children appreciate a lovely table just as much as we do. Choose some art, put a flower in a vase, or collect rocks and leaves to make a nature basket centerpiece.
Don’t forget the clean up! This cart from the Container Store makes for a perfect place for dirty dishes. There is a place for the cup, the plate, and the utensils. You can trace the outlines on paper and laminate it or just put the papers in sheet protectors. Easy! Little ones really take a lot of pride in the things we find mundane, such as clearing the table. And who doesn’t love an extra set of hands in the kitchen?!
Bon appetit friends! Check back next week for Part 2 including ideas on mealtime routines and expectations. I’ll put it all together for you!
Find the joy-