When it comes to Montessori Monday, I've received more questions relating to the messes and feeding at mealtimes than anything else. I spent a while thinking about it and asking others, and really, when it comes to meals and messes, it is a very personal choice. You just have to do what works for your family. Read through some options below to see what resonates with you.
The Montessori way involves using a weaning table. From the time a child starts solids, meals are taken at a small table and chairs and the child uses all breakable tableware. This option works well for the first child, but then many parents find it stressful to feed two children at different tables if the older child has graduated to the family table by the time the second child weans. We never pursued the weaning table for lack of space. Plus, it just seemed like too much extra work.
Both Coco and Theo have Tripp Trapp chairs and sit right at the dining room table with us. I love that they're at the same level as us and feel like our equals at the dining table. Currently, Theo's still using the baby seat so he doesn't fall and therefore it can't be pushed in under the table. The Tripp Trapp tray is the perfect solution. It's easy to remove and wash and we really do love it. The best thing about the Tripp Trapp is that it grows with your child. While the upfront price tag is hefty, it will get daily use for more than a decade! Totally worth it.
Self-feeding and Messes
Coco allowed me to spoon feed her when she was a baby, but Theo would never tolerate it. For a long time, that meant he only ate finger foods because I didn't want to deal with the mess. It seems ridiculous to allow a child to get all messy and have to change clothes and do extra laundry when they could just be fed by an adult and kept clean. However, I have had to learn that children making messes is important and they need to do it themselves. That said, it's not just a free for all. As a parent, when your child is feeding independently, it's your job to be a keen observer. What you're looking for is genuine effort and curiosity that results in either food going into their mouth, or sensory exploration. This can be really hard to gauge, but just trust your gut. Once it becomes just silly, or about getting attention or laughs from others at the table, or downright disrespectful with throwing or flinging food onto other furniture, artwork, or walls, it is definitely time to take the food away and end the mealtime for that child. It's possible for a child to completely cover their head and face with yogurt in an acceptable way. It's up to you as the parent to observe your child's process discriminately.
Coco and Theo get a snack at 3 or 4 in the afternoon and that's it. If they graze on snacks all day, they're not hungry and don't eat when it's mealtime. I know a lot of people think grazing is healthy and child-directed. You just have to do what works best for you.
At our house, everyone eats the same thing. It's enough work to get a healthy, balanced meal on the table three times a day. Cooking separate things for different people is out of the question. We have noticed that our children really love it when we all have the same thing. It's a great equalizer and makes them feel respected and included. As a teacher, I've had a lot of parents worry that their children will go hungry if they don't like what's being served. Your child will not starve. They might skip a meal, but they'll most likely eat at the next one. One thing is for sure, if you provide your child with something else in the form of a substitute or snacks, they'll continue rejecting food. Stick to the idea that everyone eats the same thing and pretty soon they'll start eating, too.
I'm curious, what are your best mealtime tips? Is mealtime enjoyable in your house or in need of some improvement?