Sitting down for meals at Elm House are very special times of day. Meal times signify a time for us to be together taking care of our bodies by eating and drinking. Each time we sit together we grow closer through this shared experience, telling stories about our day, helping clean up spills, reading books, singing our blessing song and sometimes just simply talking about what we are eating. Over the past year we have worked hard to notice what the children like to eat as well as introducing “bridge foods” or similar colors, textures or shapes of foods that are common or familiar to the children. By introducing kale and then later things like lettuce, swiss chard and even dandelion greens we gave children some ways to make connection between different types of greens! I am always thrilled to answer questions from the children about what we are eating and most recently “where did you get this food?” Which launches us into many interesting discussions about grocery stores, farms, Imperfect produce deliveries, farmers markets, etc. It also makes me curious about your children’s food experiences with your family…Do they go to the grocery store with you? Does your entire family all eat the same food for meals at home? Does your family eat very different foods than what we serve at Elm House?
The beauty of food and sitting down for a meal together with no other distractions is that it brings us together even if we aren’t eating the same things. Preferences and questions from your children in regards to what we just put on their plates launch us into conversations about individual likes and dislikes, allergies, sensitivities, family preferences and nutrition. The children keep close tabs who can eat what, including the teachers. A colleague recently asked me if it was OK if she brought in her lunch to eat with the kids and my response was a million times yes! Showing the children that different people need different nutrition is a tool for modeling respect of each other’s diets and learning about people’s individual needs. Respect is given when a child chooses not to eat something, and it’s very easy to accept these differences in taste because everything we serve is healthy and nutritious! Children this age can be very neophobic, so introducing them to different foods takes time and they will feel more comfortable the more often you offer something, even if they don’t take a bite. Even if their exposure to a new food is just observing what their teachers eat, perhaps they will be more likely to request something similar at home or be willing to try something new at a restaurant!
All year we have been having conversations with the children with the sentiment of “different kids, different bodies”. This has been helpful in our efforts to create a culture of respect for each child as an individual with unique needs and capabilities, both physically, emotionally and developmentally. Learning that someone else’s body is different than your own is big work for children this age, and one way we can do this is by having conversations at the table about who can eat what, who likes what, what a food gives to us nutritionally, etc. The level of acceptance that the children give to each other about their food choices is really amazing to me, because diets are usually such a emotionally charged subject for us adults. It makes me wonder if we can create a culture of acceptance and inquiry on this subject, how far reaching could this sentiment be in our other branches of anti-bias learning?!