Facilitating a Positive Meal Time Environment
The physical organization of a mealtime environment can have a large impact on the willingness of children to enjoy the meal, try new foods, and develop healthy eating behaviours. Here are some practical, equipment, and space oriented tips for your centre.
Eat at the same time, everyday
- Schedule for snacks, meals and water breaks to take place at the same time each day. Try to stick to this schedule even on outings. While you might schedule water breaks, remember that water should be available at all times.
Create a space where meals and snacks will take place
- If you have space, designate an area as the eating area of your room. If not, clearly mark the transition from a play area to an eating area by clearing the area of other equipment or toys, using place mats or arranging chairs differently. If possible, look for posters with local food choices, healthy food options or a visual version of Canada’s Food Guide to decorate this area.
Develop mealtime routines and ensure consistency
- Follow the same process of preparing for snacks and meals each day. This might involve hand washing, setting a table, sitting and eating for a set period of time, and then clearing the table.
Eat with children
- Providers should always consume meals with preschoolers. If possible, eat the same snack or meal as them.
Focus on food when eating
- Avoid watching TV during meal or snack times. Instead, sit with children and discuss their meals. Mealtime conversation is an important time when practitioners can teach children about healthy food and beverage choices. Mealtime can be a pleasant time for interaction and conversation.
Schedule lunch for after playtime
- Some children will eat faster than others. Avoid planning a popular activity for right after lunch or snack as it may encourage some children to rush through eating. Encourage children to remain at the table and chat with childcare staff and other children for a set period of time.
Adapted from the Nova Scotia Manual for Food and Nutrition in Regulated Childcare Settings and www.nfsmi.org/documentlibraryfiles/PDF/20090106103356.pdf