Montessori Meal Times
Food and meal times are an important and essential part of every day life. In a Montessori classroom we work to create a peaceful and healthful meal experience for our children as we place great value on both the experience and the consumption of food.Lunch and snack times are opportunities for students to practice independence and to develop important life skills such as preparation of food, preparation of meal space, table setting, manners, healthy food options, and clean up. We organize different opportunities according to the children's ages to practice these skills. For example, an Early Childhood or Lower Elementary classroom might have a weekly "formal snack" where several children prepare and serve the rest of the class. They practice appropriate vocabulary; "would you like some grapes", "yes please" or "no thank you" and they wait until the entire class is served until they begin eating. As an added bonus, the Dual Language classes and the Lower Elementary classes will sometimes practice these skills in Spanish. At the Upper Elementary level the students practice setting the table for the entire class, using placemats, table settings, and center pieces, and then share a meal together. Our Leader of the Day program allows students to share foods that they enjoy with their peers and gives students opportunities to try new foods. These are just some examples of how we prepare children for successful and graceful meal times.
We place a lot of value on the foods that our students consume. Healthy snacks are required and food preparation lessons are often given to encourage students to try new foods and to learn to cook for and serve others. In a Montessori classroom the children are physically engaged throughout the day. The hand is the instrument of the mind and at varying levels, the students brains are still developing. Therefore, healthy foods that give the body energy and that fuel the mind to encourage concentration and order are essential to a child's success and ability to reach their full potential.
One of the most important aspects of healthful meal times is placing trust in our students. While we will always encourage children to eat their most healthy and "growing" foods first, we will not force a child to eat and we will not use food as any form of punishment. If your child is still developing the skills to decipher between healthy foods and desserts, we encourage you to only send food that you would be comfortable with your child eating "first" because it might be the only food they choose to eat. Oftentimes when children are socializing they can become engaged in conversation and do not eat as much as we might think they should (despite our encouragement.) Alternatively, sometimes their bodies tell them that they have had enough. Developing the "whole self" can be very busy and engaging work and food is not always the first priority for our students. Help your child by sending foods that you know they will eat, sending portion sizes that are within reason, and let your child help pack their lunch to be assured they will not be turned off by surprise. Learning to enjoy new foods is an important part of meals but many students will not use those opportunities when they are affected by so many other stimuli. Successfully trying new foods is best done when it is an isolated experience.
Our children come with an instinctual ability to know when they are hungry. You can set your child up for successful food habits by doing the following:
- Encourage your child to be a part of the meal preparation, table set up, and clean up process.
- Make healthy snacks independently accessible in your home.
- Make packing their lunch a part of the child's daily routine. Many people find this is most successful in the evenings. Try packing lunches during the dinner clean up so that your child can use leftovers and can engage in some valuable family time in the kitchen.
- Check your child's classroom calendar and make note of cooking projects happening in the classroom. Ask your child about the experience of cooking and talk about any new foods they encountered.
- Share meals as a family and practice grace and courtesy.
- Use dinnerware that is enticing and beautiful. The more transformed your dinner table is, the more excited your child will be to participate.