Fostering Positive Mealtime Environments
“When you eat family style, you eliminate the ‘grass is always greener effect.’ The kiddos and teachers are all eating the same thing, encouraging each other. Some kids are more apt to join in and try the foods when everyone is engaging in the serving process.” OUR School Director
Family style dining involves staff and kids sitting down to eat meals together. All of the food is placed on the table and child-sized serving utensils are used so that kids can serve themselves. Through this practice, kids develop empathy by ensuring other kids get enough to eat, fine motor skills when using tongs, and conversational skills during mealtime. Family style dining is just one of the concepts that is taught during the Cooking Matters for Child Care Professionals (CMCCP) training for child care providers for children under the age of six.
CMCCP addresses the specific needs of child care providers who serve young children from limited-income families. Child care providers can earn up to eight continuing education hours during this full day training that provides hands-on practice in the kitchen, interactive discussions on ways to make healthy choices about food served to kids and practices such as how to involve kids in meal preparation.
In September 2019, staff from OUR School Nursery and Preschool in Glenwood Springs, Colorado attended a CMCCP training. Megan, OUR School Director, commented, “Eating is something we do multiple times a day, so why not learn more?”
Since the training, family style dining is a daily occurrence and the kids are also more involved in the kitchen. These little “chefs of the day” feel good about contributing to mealtime and it also encourages them to be more adventurous with the foods they will try.
During the training, participants learn activities to do with the kids in their care including taste tests and the banana mash snack.
Kids had so much fun being able to play with the food and it was fun to include kids in the snack preparation. The kids looked at me in surprise when they were encouraged to use their hands to mash up a banana.” Megan, OUR School Director
Nutrition education is a core component of the CMCCP training. Participants learn the nutrition and cost benefits of all forms of fruits and vegetables – fresh, frozen, and canned – and how to conduct taste tests with the kids.
“The kids get to be scientists when tasting fresh, frozen and canned. The kids get to decide which flavor and texture they like best when it comes to produce in different forms.” Megan, OUR School Director
Megan now asks for the kid’s opinions when it comes to what snacks they would like to eat while at the center. Of course, the kids love to suggest things like birthday cake, but they also have spoken up about what fruits and vegetables they would like to eat more of. The technique of asking kids what they want to eat, combined with Cooking Matters’ budgeting tips, really helps the center save money.
Reflecting on her experience with CMCCP, Megan also recognizes the value of Cooking Matters’ digital resources, especially during a public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic when she is no longer feeding her preschoolers breakfast and lunch. Megan shared that since attending the training, she has been following the Cooking Matters website. “[I’ve] seen a lot of creative ideas for shopping on a budget. I think in light of all that’s happening right now that there may be a lot of folks who could benefit from these tips right now.”
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