There are so many products you can buy for kids at mealtimes. From placemats, cutlery, chairs, tables, dinnerware, lunchboxes, drink bottles to booster seats. The choices are endless! My tip is to take a step back and think about the meal from your child’s perspective and how you both intend to complete the task?
The logistics of taking food and putting it in their mouth is not actually a simple exercise if the tools are all wrong. During the SOS Feeding Therapy training course last year, the presenter said to us – imagine sitting on the edge of a stool, your feet dangling, nothing to balance your weight on properly, being asked to use an oversized spoon/fork and eat something that you have never seen before. Does that sound comfortable to you? Would you successfully eat that meal?
Tips for seeing if your child is set-up for mealtime success:
1) Look at your child’s posture during the meal. Do they have a 90o angle at the hips, knees and ankles?
This is a picture of my daughter sitting in her chair last year. This chair is rated from 6 months to 6 years with multiple positions for the seat & footrest to allow us to keep her posture as close to 90o/90o/90o as possible (its not always perfect as she is a 2.5 yo now). Other options for you to consider are booster seats teamed with old phone books or boxes as a foot rest.
2) Try eating with their utensils and plates
Consider the appropriate size of the work area (plate) is there too much going on in a small space or is it a mission to push the food around to get it onto the fork or spoon. Is the edge of the plate big enough to help the food onto the plate or are they likely to run the food straight over the edge? For example on a nice wide flat plate with no edge, I love to give finger foods so there is plenty of room to spread out – but I don’t give rice / pasta / cous cous / peas / corn kernels etc.
Watch your child hold the cutlery too. Is it appropriate for their hands to hold. Are there obscure angles that make it difficult for the food to be delivered to their mouth without having to bend their wrist awkwardly? Is the fork sharp enough for the food they are trying to “stab”? Is it safe enough to not cause injury? If in doubt, my thought is that proper cutlery usage is a “nice to have” and the objective is actually to eat a meal – so if fingers gets the job done, don’t pick a battle over that as well as eating. Maybe look at WHY they are using their fingers instead of the cutlery… could anything be made better for them?
This 3-piece set from The Busy Mum’s store is lovely for both purposes – a large 25cm diameter “work surface” plate and a deep sided bowl. The cup also has a lovely gradient on it for controlling the flow of water once the child has moved onto drinking from a cup.
Why do I love the mathematics aspect? Well… I am a bit of a nerd and it is a wonderful tool for engaging your child in the meal. For example – to a toddler: Can you find the green numbers? Can you find the green kiwi fruit slices? – to a preschooler: Can you find the number 4? Can you line up 4 blueberries? – to an early schooler: Use the equations to your advantage what is 3 beans plus 6 beans? I think than anything that gets the kids interacting with their food and you all talking at the dinner table is a big win!
3) Lunchbox dimensions and usability
Definitely get into the practice of trialing the lunchbox before packing it for school. This is a really important school readiness skill. Even if that lunchbox looks really COOL & they really want that particular licensed character, maybe it’s worth taking a look at some other options and talk about decorating school books with said character instead. The things you need to consider will be how easy it is to open, how does it handle if it needs to balance on their lap, are there sections to allow different counterparts from a range of food groups and is it able to keep food cool / safe.
My lovely friend Mandy from Little People Nutrition did a review of a lunchbox on her blog. Maybe check it out if you are after some more inspiration….
Do you have more tips for setting your child up for success at mealtimes?