For Toddlers, Mealtime is a Learning Experience
For small children, mealtime is an important opportunity that's about a lot more than just eating. In fact, toddlers are nourished by everything around them, developing a sense of time, making themselves understood, becoming independent, and much more.
Meals Are a Time for Learning
At the table, we don't only consume what’s on our plate: we also take in our surroundings, words, and emotions. And this is especially true for small children. By imitation, they will discover or reject certain sensations, learn to categorize and choose their food, assert their independence (serving themselves and eating on their own), and perfect their fine motor skills. They’ll also learn to be part of a social setting in space and time (meals happen at the table at a certain time) and become familiar with social customs.
Constructing Identity Also Happens at Mealtime
Most of all, children test out their ability to communicate with others: they need to make themselves understood as clearly as possible if they want to satisfy their hunger and eat the foods they like, which encourages them to improve their verbal skills and body language. Sometimes, they may even confront those around them if they think their needs aren’t being met. Then they gradually learn that negotiation is often the best way to get what they want. Moreover, meals teach good manners: saying thank you when they’re served, waiting their turn to talk, not talking with their mouth full, considering others by not taking all the food for themselves, etc. In this way, from a tender age, individuals build their personal, social, and “food” identity during meals. That’s a pretty big deal!
Dr. Stéphane Clerget, Pediatric psychiatrist and hospital physician (Paris)