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5 Ways to Teach Independence with Mealtime

Posted by Manasa Mantravadi on
Teaching independence and helping your little one grow through chores or learning opportunities

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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!

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