Meals are a great time to teach manners, good health habits, and conversation skills. Here are some tips from preschool teachers.
Keep in mind that children learn new skills in small steps. Explain the skill in easy words. Do the task together. Be there when they try it on their own. They'll need reassurance, encouragement, praise, and practice.
Help Prepare the Table
Preschool children can help wipe, set the table, and remove their age (in dishes) to the counter afterward.
Plan how to make them successful if you want them to continue any task. They can start putting one kind of utensil on the table. Later help them count out the number of people eating and select easy tasks.
Show them how to put the spoon and napkin on the right and the fork on the left to help them learn right and left. When they are ready, add a table knife.
Encourage and praise for even close to correctness. Help them. They are doing their best because they want to please you.
Teach children to wash hands with soap before eating and sing the Happy Birthday or ABC song.
Sit in a chair while eating at a table and keep elbows off. Show children how request food. Use cups with lids and gradually add plastic glasses with very little liquid. Spills happen - no big deal.
It's good exercise for toddlers to pick up finger food. Preschoolers can start using spoons and forks. They will also enjoy learning how to cut bananas with a table knife.
While eating, point out that people chew with their mouths closed and swallow before talking. Practice saying "please, thank you, you're welcome, and excuse me." Slow down the eating and take time to converse about the day.
Eating a Wider Variety
Introduce new fruit and vegetables with ones they already like.If they like cooked peas, they can count out their age in peas and add a few corn kernels to try.
Four and five year olds may be ready to bite off a tiny piece of thin raw carrot without choking. Show them how to chew carefully before swallowing.
Pediatricians recommend not forcing children to clear their plates before leaving the table. Give them less food with the understanding they can ask for more. Avoid bribing with dessert. Some children eat a small supper and come back for the rest (not a dessert or snack) stored in the refrigerator.
They point out that adults should relax about food choices as long as there is a balance of protein, fruits, vegetables, water, source of calcium, and bread throughout the day.
Snack choices can be one of the food groups not eaten yet. No fruit eaten today? Provide apple or pear slices instead of crackers and cheese for a snack.
For more ideas see grandparentsteachtoo.org.