Food for young children can be more than just physical sustenance. We can make mealtimes meaning-full moments that matter in the lives of our tamariki. Food for the belly yes, but also for the heart, and the relationship.
Rather than meals being a hurried affair that we do on ‘auto-pilot’, they can be moments of care, where we slow down, connect, chat, laugh and involve our little ones. They can be ‘together times’, and real ‘top up times’ for our children, IF we put some thought and heart into how we want these times to be.
A question we can ask ourselves is, “what are we offering here: a plate of food, or a enjoyable experience”? That might sound a little far-fetched, but just think about it for a moment. We all know the joy of eating with others, or of having extra care taken with the set up. If that’s true for us, it’s true for our tamariki. Little changes can be big – shifting an ordinary ‘routine’ to more of a ritual, and something a bit mundane to something heart-warming.
It is about infusing the ‘ingredients’ that our children truly crave:
Sitting together, phones away, prepared and present – these are the mealtimes that make our children feel ‘seen’. They fill up on food and fill up on love.
Time with us, we’ve mentioned, but there is also just time itself. Beautiful, unhurried time where our children have the pace and space to decide, to ‘dine’, and dream. They can savour the meal, and the moment.
Serving our children is nice, but we can also allow their participation and make mealtimes more collaborative. Setting up, selecting their food, ‘saying when’ once they’ve had their fill (even if non verbally) are all roles our children can take. Putting tasks ‘in little hands’ feels good for little hearts.
Truly. Our children’s eyes light up if instead of just plastic plates and bare tables, we offer a set table, nice china (yes, even for small children), vases of flowers, candles nearby and soft music. Little details never feel little. Beauty seen is beauty soaked up.
Keeping these ‘ingredients’ in mind (and heart) means our meal times will be more than food oriented. They’ll also be about family, and about finding joy in ordinary moments (albeit ‘made special’ ones).
It’s important to reiterate the word we used earlier: enjoyable. That goes for us as much as our children. This isn’t to feel like pressure, and that every night has to be a five star restaurant affair. It means that when we can put in the effort, we do. When we can slow down, we do. When we can create an atmosphere that calls to them, we do. And it also doesn’t need to be a brand new kind of special every time. Our tamariki also crave sameness and familiarity. (Looking at children’s food habits is a great confirmation of this)! A beauty-full meal time ritual can be repeated again and again, just as joyfully.
It is when we recognise the needs of the heart just as much as the needs of the tummy that we really make eating more than eating – we make it an EXPERIENCE.