Montessori Mealtime: How To Have Peaceful Family Dinners
Does a peaceful mealtime with your tot seem like an impossible dream? These Montessori-inspired tips can help you get there!
Dinner with young kids can be chaotic. Whether your child refuses to stay in their chair for the whole meal, insists on sitting in your lap to eat, or will only eat mac and cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’re not alone.
Don’t worry though, there are some simple ways to help your child learn how to participate at mealtimes. These Montessori-inspired tips can help you get just that little bit closer to those family dinners you’ve always dreamed of.
Tips For Improving Mealtimes
Get kids involved
Getting your child involved in the mealtime process sets them up for success during the actual meal.
Young kids want to feel like part of the community, like they’re contributing members of the family. Many toddlers in particular love to help, no matter what the task.
Furthermore, one reason young kids sometimes struggle with mealtimes is that they were in the middle of doing something else when you asked them to come to dinner, like building with blocks or drawing a picture that seemed really important to them. Instead, if they’re busy helping you prepare dinner, they will be more mentally primed for a meal together.
Here are some simple ways even your young tot can help prepare for a meal:
- Make a salad: If you have a kitchen helper, invite your little sous chef to help prepare a salad. They can tear leaves from herbs or greens for a salad and once they turn 3 or 4 they can even help chop with a wavy chopper which isn’t sharp.
- Set the table: Try keeping your child’s dishes on a low kitchen shelf so they can reach them independently. Show them how to set their own place at the table. (They may need a step stool to reach the table.)
- Pour water: Using a small pitcher with a lid, invite your tot to fill everyone’s water glass before dinner. Show them how to use two hands to carefully pour the water. Don’t make a big deal about spills, but do show them how to clean them up with a small cloth.
- Arrange flowers: Do this one ahead of time – gather a few small vases, or even empty jars like mason jars. Your child will also need kid-safe scissors, and a way to fill the vases with water, such as a tiny pitcher. Pick wildflowers together or get a small bouquet from the grocery store. Show them how to trim and arrange the flowers and invite them to place a vase on the table for everyone to enjoy at mealtime.
Stay consistent with boundaries
This is the hardest, but possibly the most important part of mealtimes.
By the time dinner comes around, everyone is hungry and tired and, sometimes, you just want to sit and eat without a battle. Truthfully though, the sooner you can establish (and stick to) consistent mealtime boundaries, the sooner the battles will end.
Sit down with your child and think of a few mealtime rules together that are really important and write them down. This list might include sitting at the table for the entire meal, trying a bite of everything, not throwing food on the floor or only talking in a quiet voice. The rules are up to you, but the important part is that everyone is on the same page. Involving your child in coming up with the rules in the first place will make them feel more engaged and more likely to stick to them.
Make sure the expectations are reasonable for your child’s age. While you can certainly expect a 3 year old to sit at the table the whole time they’re eating, you may not be able to ask them to sit until everyone else is done eating.
Discuss the rules as a family before every meal while you’re adjusting. If your child/children don’t follow the rules, give them one reminder if you wish, and then say something like, “You’re getting up again, it looks like you’re done with dinner.”
This may seem harsh, but you don’t need to say it with any anger and it only takes a few times of doing this for kids to understand that you’re serious about the rules. If you’re genuinely worried that your child will be hungry, offer a healthy snack an hour or so later.
Be mindful to stick to the rules yourself as you’ll definitely be reminded when you break them!
This last one is so simple, but so important! Many families will often push dinner time later to make sure everyone is home for the meal. The more tired a child is though, the less likely they’ll be successful at sticking to the rules.
If your child loses control at dinner time, try moving it earlier, even as early as 5 PM. While you likely won’t be ready to eat at this time, you can sit with your child and have something small like a salad or some crudites and make full family dinners happen on the weekends.
Just remember that the night time meltdowns won’t happen forever. The daily ritual of family dinners will happen soon enough and everyone will actually enjoy them because you’ve laid a strong foundation for what mealtimes mean to your family.
Montessori Mealtime Picks
- Montessori Educator Christina Clemer shares five simple tips for creating a Montessori-friendly set up at home for your toddler.
- It’s never too late to start talking to your kids about what “real” food is, where ingredients come from and how to cook homemade meals. Give them the gift of knowledge and an open mind. Calgary Avansino shares her Top 10 tips for kids & healthy eating.