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Progressive Mealtimes In Early Childhood Settings

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Progressive Mealtimes In Early Childhood Settings Image by Francine Sreca from Pixabay

Progressive mealtimes are giving an opportunity for children to choose when they want to eat within a certain timeframe instead of eating at a set time.

This type of mealtime allows children the freedom of continuous play and the right to choose when or if they are hungry. It enables children to be independent, show responsibility and support their growing competence.

Benefits of Progressive Mealtimes

  • The meal table is made available for an extended period of time. For example, the mealtime extends from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm.
  • It encourages children to make decisions based on their needs. They can choose to eat when they are hungry.
  • Children can access food and water with the educator’s support throughout the day.
  • No need to follow the meal/snack schedules.
  • Children can gather in small groups to enjoy meals together and have an interaction with each other at the mealtime.
  • Children can choose to finish an activity they are playing before sitting down to eat. They may return to it once they have finished their meal.
  • Children can still play without being interrupted.
  • The other educators can still be interacting with the other children not eating.
  • Develops independence
  • Children recognise if they are hungry or thirsty on their own
  • Children can still play without being interrupted
  • Gives children the opportunity to practice social, language and self-help skills
  • Given children adequate time for those who take more time to consume food than others
  • Gives children more time to enjoy their food instead of being rushed
  • Educators have more interactions with individual or small groups of children as there could be fewer children eating at a given time
  • Children can eat with friends
  • It makes children communicate with other children to support them in managing their time and making choices

Drawbacks

  • Children could wait till the last minute to eat as they are engaged in play
  • Missing out on food and being hungry later
  • Because of the extended mealtime, the food may become cold/soaked or not enough for the last group of children. For example, lunch could get cold therefore leaving the last few children with a loss of appetite having to eat cold food and the kitchen was busy to prepare arvo tea.
  • Children may not have enough nutrition if they chose to continue their activities without eating food, or they may overeat food and become overweight.
  • Hard to record their eating habits and behaviours.
  • Does not help to build a good eating routine preschooler who will find hard to suit the school lunch schedules.

Services can address these issues so that it doesn’t happen...

  • For example by always having fresh fruit and sandwiches on hand so even if meals run out there is always something to eat for the children.
  • Also giving the children notice when mealtimes are going to finish and they can work out for themselves when they need to eat or if they don’t want to eat.
  • For a child that eats last because they are playing, Educators can keep a list and tick children off as they see them eat during the progressive mealtime. Educators will remind those children yet to eat to do so. The service will have to have spare fruit in the kitchen if needed even if a child misses the period of snack and decides they are hungry then.
  • If a child doesn't want to eat and just wants to play, Educators are advised to keep offering the children, that food is available and that mealtime will be over in a period of time. Create a stress-free and inviting mealtime that encourages children to want to eat.

Ideas On Implementing Progressive Mealtimes

  • You can gather the children together before each mealtime and explain what types of food is available... "This morning for morning tea we have a fruit platter with oranges, pears, bananas and grapes. There are also mini cucumber, tomato and cheese sandwiches." Then you could ask each child what types of food they like, who is ready to go and eat etc. Then they go to the bathroom to wash their hands for their meal. Explaining to the children the types of food available will get them interested and hungry to go and eat.
  • You can play a specific song during meal times to indicate to the children that its time to eat. As the song finishes the mealtime is over. Since mealtime could take up to 45 minutes it's probably best to get a classical piece, nature sounds, soothing music etc.
  • The children are encouraged to use the utensils and select the snacks that they prefer and pour their own cups of water.
  • Getting the children to help prepare the meal
  • Asking the children to set the table
  • Telling the children that snack time will begin shortly and what will be available to eat
  • Talking to the children about what they like to eat at home, favourite foods, etc.

Whether or not your mealtimes are progressive or set up, it's important that all mealtimes are pleasant, children are given plenty of time to enjoy their food, both Educators and children are socially engaged in a light-hearted conversation, relaxed and children are encouraged to develop their self-help skills and independence.

References:

  • Progressive Mealtimes, Scoop It
  • A Study Of Food Sharing Practices, School Of Medical and Health Science WA
  • Progressive Mealtimes, Jane Eva on Prezi
  • Progressive Snack Time. Thoughts? The Jellybeans Early Years
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