Mealtimes play an important part in children’s development. The focus should not only be the food element of the meal, mealtimes offer children the opportunity to explore textures, learn new words, strengthen eye to hand co-ordination and a range of social skills.
Mealtimes can be frustrating for parents, but with a little tme and patience mealtimes can become pleasurable family occasions.
Here are a few activities ideas to enhance your child’s development at mealtimes.
From eight months of age
Young children are messy eaters and the pleasure children gain from food is as much in their hands as in their mouths. To encourage young children to wash their hands before and after a meal, use a small tray like container with lukewarm water. Allow your child to splash and demonstrate how to rub your hand together. Do not rush your child, as hurrying will take the pleasure out of the whole mealtime experience.
From 12 months of age
From around this age children try to grab the spoon that the adult is using. This is a sign that the child wants to have a go. Provide your child with a spoon that is not too shallow and that food will stick to easily.
At first your child may just want to explore and play with the spoon. After a few mealtimes exploring the spoon, and through watching your actions, your child will be able to scoop up some food and direct it into their mouth.
Never leave your child unattended during mealtimes
From two years
Around the age of two some children become what’s known as ‘fussy eaters’, especially with vegetables. By changing the presentation of food can make food more appealing.
Try cutting up a selection of vegetables, some cooked, some raw, arrange them on plate or small tray. Put out two or three egg cup sized containers, each with a different flavoured sauce or dip. Sit with your child and show them how to dip the vegetable into the sauce / dip. Some children may wish to dip the piece of vegetable into each sauce / dip.
Other foods can be added, such as finger slices of bread, fruit, cheese etc. or you can create a mealtime picture by arranging the food as a car, a face, a tree, a boat, to name just a few.
From three years
Laying the table is a good simple task to children can help with, which can also help develop mathematical skills, such as sorting all the forks, knives, spoons etc. using shaped place mats, patterned or different shaped tables cloths and / or cookery. You could even try folding napkins in various ways.
Do not forget to encourage your child to help with the tidying up afterwards.
From four years
By this age children are exploring mark making, developing cutting skills and participating in more arts and craft activities. To make mealtimes more personalised, why not make your own place mats. This will incorporate all these new skills as well as making mealtime fun. Allow your card to drawn around a large template of their chosen shape, e.g. a circle (draw around a dinner plate), supervise them as they cut the shape out, then offer your child a range of mark making materials, e.g. crayons, felt tips, you could also offer stickers, sticky shapes, glitter etc.
Don’t forget, each member of the family will need one, so get them all involved.