Raising little foodies: let them use real tableware
Could you let your child use real tableware?
The kindergarten that Little Foodie goes to embraces the Reggio-Emilia educational philosophy. It’s a wonderful approach (similar to Montessori), which places emphasis on respect, responsibility, and community. This outlook naturally extends to the centre’s mealtimes. From very young, the children there are encouraged to set the table, sit together, serve their own food, pour their own water, and then to tidy up afterwards.
Does the thought of a group of babies and toddlers handling glass and porcelain scare the shiz out of you?
Believe it or not, mealtimes there are social and calm. Any breakages or spillages are cleaned up straight away without a fuss. If we think of eating as a learning experience, rather than simply a scheduled time of ‘feeding’ our children, it takes away any potential for stress or triggers for power struggles.
I have happily observed the young children at his childcare centre eat off real plates, drink from real glasses, and use real cutlery. If kids can do this in a group setting, there is no reason why they can’t do this at home. It’s incidentally the same approach I have used since my son was five months old: he has never had ‘kiddie’ tableware, and uses exactly what we use. That includes drinking water from a glass at six months of age (head over to my Instagram page to check out how Little Foodie’s meals are served).
I’ve been working in early childhood now for almost two decades (yes, that does make me feel old!), so I’ve been around the traps, and you will notice how cynical I am when it comes to what the big companies try to tell us we need to spend money on when it comes to our kids. They’ll get the hint when we stop buying from them (read the article I wrote for Kidspot about what we DON’T need when we introduce our baby to solids).
When we empower young children to handle real materials carefully, we create a foundation of care and responsibility. The other bonus is that the whole family is using identical dishes, so there are no arguments about what colour plate they’re going to choose!
Why you would let your kids use real tableware
Kids love watching us and mimicking what we do. Mealtimes are about us modelling a behaviour that we’d like to see them repeat.
That goes with anything we’re trying to teach our kids. Whether it’s brushing teeth, eating vegetables, using the toilet, being well-mannered, packing up a mess…we are the people they look to to learn these things. Simply telling them or bribing them to do something won’t teach them. So, from these examples, brush your teeth with them, eat at the table with them, let them see you go to the toilet (well, they’re probably in there with you whether you like it or not!), say please and thank you to your children as you would other adults, and pack up messes together before moving onto the next activity.
It’s the whole monkey-see, monkey-do thing.
If we want to teach our children good eating habits, then we need to give them trust and build their self-confidence around mealtimes. Nothing says that more than letting them do what the grown-ups do.
Depending on their age, that trust-building starts with encouraging them to set the table, letting them serve their own food with tongs from the middle of the table (see ten buffet-style meal ideas here), sitting back as they pour a glass of water from a jug, to finally clearing the table as a family.
My son knows the phrase well: ‘okay, everyone take something’ when we’ve finished a meal. He knows to at least take his plate to the kitchen sink, and perhaps the salt and pepper. I try to overlook the little lick he gives the salt grinder!
When and what children can use instead
Did you know that sippy cups are quite a new invention? A very well-marketed one. Parents assume it’s what kids need to drink out of, but guess what, they can manage perfectly fine with a glass.
From the time they first drink cooled boiled water at six months of age (as per the recommendation), they can drink from a glass. My son took a little while to get the hang of it, and there was a lot of dribbling and spluttering which often left his clothes soaking wet, but we kept patiently persevering and eventually he got used to it. Drinking from a glass is very different to the breast or bottle, so it makes sense that it would be a skill that requires time to master. I obviously held the glass for him in the beginning since he didn’t quite have the motor skills, which also meant no breakages.
Babies go through that frustrating — but very normal — stage of throwing things from the table, so keep your little ones well-supervised but not over-controlled. Accidents happen. Use small strong glasses that aren’t family heirlooms…I even used tea-light candle holders in the beginning.
If you’re spoon-feeding your baby, you can use a regular teaspoon. There’s absolutely no reason to go out and buy plastic spoons, so save yourself some money (and the environment, plus reduce your child’s exposure to the chemicals found in plastic).
For plates and bowls, they can use whatever you already have. Again, clever marketing towards parents tells us that pretty colourful plastic bowls, or plates that divide the different foods, will encourage our kids to eat more and try new foods. It won’t make a difference…except that it will tell them that their food is different to yours, making them perhaps more wary and resistant of what you put in front of them. Have you ever noticed that they’d rather eat what’s on your plate?
Besides, they’ll only argue about which one they want to use if there is a choice. That battle has nothing to do with preference, though; it’s all about power. They want to be in control, and that’s when the mealtime battles start. Remove that from the equation if you want a happy little eater.
What about breakages?
Accidents happen whether you’re a child or an adult. They’re learning so many new skills every day, we can’t expect them to do something perfect the first time. Or even the second or third. Breakages and spillages will inevitably happen, but over time your child will become more competent and better equipped to handle real tableware. We are showing them our trust, which makes them feel special. When accidents happen, it’s important that we stay calm and not make a huge deal of it. Imagine if someone got stressed and started shouting at us while we were learning something new? We need to put ourselves in their shoes and see the big wide world through their little eyes.
So, would you give it a go and let your child use real tableware? Or do you already? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
For more ideas about raising little foodies, head to the guide here.