The ABC of Child Care: M is for Mealtime Interactions

M is for Mealtime Interactions

I wrote about food in child care previously but see mealtime interactions as a separate and equally important issue. Mealtimes in a quality child care centre provide for a relaxed, social environment and the promotion of good nutrition and healthy eating habits, both of which are important to growth and development in childhood and later life.

Centres should;

  • Schedule regular times for meals and snacks that meet the needs of the children
  • Create a relaxed and pleasant social environment at mealtimes
  • Respect the children’s choices

Centre staff should promote positive ‘food-related behaviours’ at mealtimes, including;

  • Eating together as a social experience
  • Sitting and interacting whilst eating
  • Offering new food to try regularly
  • Providing healthy meals and snacks with a few choices
  • Letting children choose what to eat (from the healthy choices offered) and how much
  • Developing appropriate table manners
  • Encouraging children to stay at the table and talk or provide quiet activities for children who may finish eating more quickly than others

To achieve this, staff should;

  • Sit with the group so as to guide conversation
  • Encourage the children in social talk amongst their group
  • Eat some food offered with the children
  • Remain calm and accommodate the children’s increasing self-feeding skills and some ‘messiness’
  • Encourage a timely pace but not overly rush children
  • Positively encourage children to try a small sample of a new food first to minimize wastage

It is important that the mealtime environment is pleasant and relaxed. This type of setting greatly contributes to the children’s enjoyment of mealtimes. Strategies a Centre may utilise to achieve this include;

  • Tables for small groups of children to sit together
  • Opportunities for children to assist in setting up and clearing away the meal environment, in line with their skills and interest
  • Utensils of a size and style appropriate to the development of the child to encourage self feeding skill development
  • Serving bowls with food and drink in small jugs that children can serve themselves with assistance from staff when needed
  • Safe areas for children to stack used plates, cutlery and cups
  • Scheduled mealtimes to provide continuity and assurance for children with some flexibility for special activities, the weather and children’s individual needs
  • Effectively managed transitions and routines to minimise children’s waiting times for food

Missed an ABC of Child Care post? Check out A – L here.


  1. miss carly says:

    I love letting children self-serve, I think that it is such an important skill.

    I have been in some centres where talking isn't allowed/promoted and then once I took over the room, I would sit with the children and start conversations. Showing them that socialising is something that we can do during meal times too.

    Great post!

  2. i have a question how people feel about progressive lunch times in a kindy aged room? my coworker loves the idea but i believe it doesnt promote a social routine for children who begin school soon.

Comments are closed.