5 Ways to Teach Independence at Mealtime

By Manasa Mantravadi



Time to Read: 5 min

How To Teach Independence at Mealtime

Some call them chores. I call them learning opportunities! A family unit is truly a team - we can teach our youngest teammates valuable life skills during their daily routines. Research suggests there are benefits to including chores in a child's daily routine as early as age 3. These include executive function skills like self-control, planning, creative thinking and organizational abilities. These skills can help children deal with frustration and challenges, leading to success in school as well as play a positive role in developing teamwork abilities. It also provides them an opportunity for success as a team member of the family. Setting a good foundation for functioning independently helps to build confidence in our little ones.

Please remember that while these are learning opportunities, they are also learning processes. They may take some time so start with small manageable (and age-appropriate) tasks. A 2-year old cannot take out the trash; however, young children can help with much more than you may think. Be patient, consistent, and be a good role model - your little one will be your eager and confident helper soon enough!

About Ahimsa

Founded by a pediatrician and mom of three

Stainless steel is the only kid-friendly material recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics 

We are guided by a Scientific Advisory Council comprised of environmental and medical experts, guiding us in creating the safest products, following the latest science and promoting policy to protect human health and our planet

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Here are five ways to teach independence at mealtime:

Unload the groceries:

A simple task that can help teach sorting. Kids can learn where things go in your kitchen (pantry, fridge, freezer). You can even teach them how to properly and gently put away the eggs with some help.

Meal Preparation:

When you are prepping meals, get them involved. Washing produce allows them to engage and explore fruits and vegetables. Grating cheese and even early knife skills (with supervision and age-appropriate knives) encourages children to participate in mealtime. Since they contributed to the meal, they are often more interested in eating the food. 

Set the Table:

You can store your dishes in lower cabinets or drawers for easy access - children can grab items and set the dining table. Use regular-sized utensils for toddlers and beyond (our cutlery is designed for all ages, and since all of our dishes are stainless steel - nothing will break!). Help encourage fine motor skills by teaching them how to fold napkins for each place setting.

Mealtime Essentials

Family Style Meals: 

This is the best time for parents or caregivers to model healthy eating. Studies show that eating a family meal together at the dining table at least three times per week leads to healthier children. It allows you to connect socially and emotionally with your children at the end of a busy day. Allowing them to pass food items or verbalize their thoughts regarding the tastes and textures of food (even if it is a negative comment!) helps make them an active and communicative member of the dining experience. Remember, if your child is learning to drink from a cup or pouring for themselves, spills will occur. Since it is a normal part of learning - use this opportunity to teach them the responsibility of cleaning it up without any yelling or negative comments. Children can understand that it is normal to make mistakes and help encourage experimentation and self-esteem. 

Helping with Dishes: 

Whether it’s rinsing a plate, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or drying a cup - helping with clean-up is a great way to help teach responsibility. Our rainbow stainless steel dinnerware is exciting to eat from and also really fun to clean. Seeing your reflection in a rainbow is a pretty great way to end a family dinner!

So, grab your helper and start that mealtime teamwork. As we say in our home … Teamwork makes the dream work. 

Cheers to happy and healthy eating!

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi is a board-certified pediatrician whose dedication to children’s health drove her to launch Ahimsa, the world's first colorful stainless steel dishes for kids. She was motivated by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ findings on harmful chemicals in plastic affecting children's well-being. Ahimsa has gained widespread recognition and been featured in media outlets such as Parents Magazine, the Today Show, The Oprah Magazine, and more.

Dr. Mantravadi received the esteemed “Physician Mentor of the Year” award at Indiana University School of Medicine in 2019. She was also named a Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneur in 2021, with her inspiring story showcased on Good Morning America. She serves on the Council for Environmental Health and Climate Change and the Council for School Health at The American Academy of Pediatrics. She represents Ahimsa as a U.S. industry stakeholder on the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the Global Plastics Treaty, led by the United Nations Environment Program. Dr. Mantravadi leads Ahimsa's social impact program, The Conscious Cafeteria Project, to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard student health as part of a national pilot of the Clinton Global Initiative.

She is dedicated to educating and empowering people to make healthier, more environmentally friendly choices at mealtime. Her mission remains to advocate for the health of all children and the one planet we will leave behind for them through real policy change within our food system.

More Mealtime Essentials

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I use stainless steel instead of plastic? Is stainless steel better for health?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report in July 2018 suggesting ways that families can limit exposure to certain chemicals at mealtime, including “the use of alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.” The report explained that “…some additives are put directly in foods, while “indirect” additives may include chemicals from plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard”. Further, “Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing.” While stainless steel items meet the recommendation to avoid plastic products in children, Ahimsa® products have the obvious advantage of not breaking like glass.

Is stainless steel better for the environment than plastic?

According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel can be recycled over and over and over again without losing its integrity and requires less energy to recycle than to make anew. Most plastic unfortunately ends up in landfills and it is estimated to take 700 years to decompose. Our special coloring process that allows Ahimsa® products to be fully metal is environmentally friendly, so it does not produce toxic run-off into the ecosystem.

Will Ahimsa products break or peel?

No. Our steel is durable, so it won’t break or shatter with everyday use, like glass. And it won’t peel, like other colored stainless steel products you’ve seen. We use a special process that allows the colors to naturally occur in the metal.

Which Ahimsa products are best for my little one(s)?

Our products are meant to last, you can use Ahimsa at ages 1, 8 and 18! We thoughtfully design our products to be safe for little ones and our planet while reducing consumption. Once your child outgrows the Starting Solids Set  and can use regular cups and utensils, the training cup is the perfect size rinse cup in the bathroom, the infant spoon doubles as a tea stirrer and the bowl is great for snacks or as an additional compartment to our modular divided plate. Our plates are great for any age as they encourage choosing a variety of healthy foods at each meal and help visualize portion sizes easily. It’s the lasting beauty of stainless steel - grows with your child and reduces waste.

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