Mealtime is a time for families to come together. Some parents however, may feel too busy to sit down at the table. If you can’t sit for the whole meal, try to sit and talk with your child for a short time. Remember to use the times preparing the meal, and cleaning up, for conversations too.
Baby Talk. Feeding time is a special time for parents and babies. Close contact during feeding gives you and your baby time to communicate. As you feed your baby, talk softly, and look right at her. “Oh! You are hungry aren’t you?” Then listen to your baby and talk again. “Oh, yes, you are hungry- so hungry!” Pay attention to how your baby moves, and the noises she makes. She uses many ways to respond to you.
I Can Help. Put your child’s highchair in a place where he can see you as you fix the meal. As you prepare the food, talk to your child about what you are doing. “I’m cutting the banana up into little tiny pieces for the fruit salad. Now I’m putting the grapes in.” Wash your toddler’s hands and invite him to help. Tell him and show him what you want him to do. “Will you rip the lettuce up into big pieces like this for the salad? Please put the pieces in the bowl like this.”
How Does it Taste? As you feed your child, talk about the food’s color, size, texture, and taste. “These grapes are round and smooth. Taste how sweet they are!” Talk about the flavors of different foods and invite your child to compare them. Use words like sweet, salty, sour, and bitter and change your facial expression to show what you mean. “Are those grapes sweeter or more sour than the ones we ate yesterday? I think they are more sour!”
What Does the Recipe Say? Ask your child to help prepare the meal. If you use a recipe, show your child the words. Explain that the recipe gives directions for how to make the meal. Read the name of each ingredient out loud as you put it on the table. “Let’s see. The recipe says we need spinach; we have spinach. It says we need cheese. We have cheese.” Read each direction out loud. Tell and show your child what you want her to do. “The recipe says to mix all the ingredients. Will you mix all the ingredients like this?”
Family Conversation. Mealtime is a great time for children to learn about group conversations. Ask your child a question like “How was your day today?” Then ask questions that invite your child to say more like “Tell me more about your new friend at school. Does he like to play baseball too?” Encourage everyone to join in. Says things that help your child listen to other people like “Did you hear what your brother said about the mall? Do you want to go too?”
What’s On the Menu? When you go to a restaurant, look at the menu with your child. Explain that the menu shows what food there is to order. If there are pictures on the menu, name some items in the pictures. “It’s a hamburger with cheese, pickles, and tomatoes on it.” Then match the picture to the words for that item. “Let’s see. Can we find those words on the menu?” When you find it, talk about the words. For example say, “Hamburger is a really long word. How many letters does it have?”
Can I Help You? Children love to play “restaurant” at home. At a family mealtime, let your child pretend to be a waiter or waitress. First tell your child what is on the menu for dinner. Then give her a small pad of paper and a pen to take orders from the customers. Let her serve the food and then she can leave the bill. To extend the play, invite your child to use paper and markers to make real menus for the next meal.
Family Recipe. Many meals we make don’t come from recipes. Your child can make a recipe card for a simple meal, for example “How to make a peanut butter sandwich.” Give your child paper and crayons and ask her to draw each step as you make the sandwich. Help her say the important words slowly, like spread for example. She can try to write it by listening to the sounds of the letters, s-p-r-ea-d. You can help her notice silent letters like the “a” in spread. “The word spread is like the word bread. Both of those words have an ‘a’ that doesn’t make any sound.” If she likes this activity, she can make a whole set of recipes.
Let’s Eat Out. At a restaurant your child learns how to order food. He also learns proper restaurant behavior. Show your child the menu and tell him what things he may choose from. Explain how he will order from the waitress. For example, “I would like a tuna sandwich please.” At the end of the meal, show him the bill. Point out his sandwich and the price. Remind him to say goodbye “Thank you. My tuna sandwich was delicious.”
Cleaning Helper. Invite your child to help clean up after a meal at home. For example, he can clear the dishes off the table, clean the crumbs, and then wipe the table. Tell and show your child how to do each step carefully. If you use wipes or a spray cleaner, read the label with your child. Tell him that the label has the directions for using the cleaner carefully. Explain that it is important to follow the directions. Remind him to always ask an adult before using any cleaner.