Admittedly, I was surprised to find myself sitting with a good-size group of interested and engaged parents last week for our adult educational offering geared towards developing an appreciation for healthy eating habits. I’m not sure why… for generations food has connected communities. Eating right supports not only our health physically and cognitively, but also engages us cognitively, socially and emotionally.
Think back to the time when you were young. Can you recall a favorite meal or dinner shared with family or friends?
Take a moment to recall the details of that time. Can you remember who was there? What they were wearing? Sounds? Smells? and, of course, tastes?
Mine was in the kitchen of South Carolinian home with my grandparents who often wintered with us. I recall my grandmother standing near the stove- my grandfather at the counter behind her. “Stir the dough 200 times,” she would say. He would count them off in Hungarian. Just home from school, I sat at the kitchen table watching as she prepared my father’s favorite cookies- peanut butter. As the end of the day approached, the kitchen filled with the smell of fresh baked cookies. I can still see in my mind’s eye how my dad’s face lit up as a child’s when he caught the scent upon walking up the drive.
Few memories imprint on our memory more deeply than those experienced in early childhood. Fewer, still, have more meaning that those surrounded by food.
Consider the first born baby arriving completely dependent on others for survival. Almost helpless in every other way, the infant breast walks to her mother’s nipple, latching on. Even her eyesight is limited- a newborn is only able to see from her mother’s bosom to her face facilitating attachment. One might argue even that the attachment and bonding connection equal in importance to food, water, and shelter in one’s hierarchy of needs.
Maybe that was why the evening’s adult education class was so well received.
As we sipped on our wine and snacked on the offering of fruit and cheese, we shared some of our wishes for mealtimes together. We shared a concern of the growing pressures facing parenting in the Information Age. We questioned our ability to balance our child’s need for independence and our need to get the job done. We wondered what to do when our child refuses to sit during meals.
And then we talked about all the wonderful things that transpire when we do all come together as a family to leisurely share our dinner, our day, our ideals.
At the center, we share the same value of a shared community meal. Inspired by Slow Food, teacher and child come together daily to prepare and partake of an organic, minimally processed lunch. As children learn to sit up on their own, grasp a spoon, or set a table, their involvement with the mid-day meal deepens, expectations adjust, and the environment changes in support of their growth and development. From infancy through Kindergarten, we take the moments we nourish our bodies as an opportunity to refuel our relationships. But it’s not always easy.
At school or at home, getting a child to come to the table and actively participate involves:
1. having the adults involved with mealtimes to come together first in defining their goals and expectations, remembering to revisit these ideas every so often as your child grows and develops,
2. defining the eating area- at every age, especially infants- and preparing the environment in a way that is comfortable and free from distractions for each of the members who will be sharing the experience together,
3. including the child in the preparation and transition of coming together at their developmental readiness, and most importantly by
4. cultivating within yourself a love and appreciation for the many ways food nourishes our body, minds and souls.
Just watch as these very young toddlers share a meal together with their primary Educarer.
When cultivated early, an appreciation of feeding our minds and souls while we nourish our bodies will serve as the foundation for your child’s future relationships with her body and with others. These moments remain with us throughout our lives.
Our favorite resources:
Super Baby Food, Ruth Yaron
Come to the Table: A Celebration of Family Life, Doris Christopher
These RIE Resources, Magda Gerber
Toddler Eating Issues, Janet Lansbury