From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 67.
March is National Nutrition Month in Canada and the United States. This year’s theme is “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right,” which brings to mind some articles I read recently. Headlines such as “Kids who are time-crunched at school lunch toss more and eat less” (Godoy & Aubrey, 2015) and “These days, school lunch hours are more like 15 minutes” (Westerveldt, 2013) make me wonder how children possibly savor any flavor with only 10–15 minutes to eat.
Montessori encourages adults to model the behaviors we wish to see in the child. We walk slowly, speak softly, and touch gently. What does it say, therefore, when we eat quickly?
Modern eating habits have taken on a sense of urgency: breakfast is a rush as we try to get out the door; lunch is hurried so we have time to prepare afternoon lessons; and dinner is eaten on the go as we race children from one activity to another. We can’t possibly be modeling good nutritional and eating habits if we are always in a hurry ourselves. (Westerveldt, 2013)
Savoring Food in the Montessori Environment — The Case for Eating More Slowly and Mindfully
A report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that children who have short lunch times consume “13 percent less of their main entree and 12 percent less of their vegetables. They drank 10 percent less milk, too, compared with students who had 25 minutes or more to eat. They also found more food waste among kids who had less time to eat.” (Godoy & Aubrey, 2015) Eating healthy takes time to prepare and to eat. (Westerveldt, 2013) Sitting down and eating a salad takes longer than quickly eating a bag of chips.
Food is packaged for the convenience of the on-the-go lifestyle. Yogurt and pureed fruit are packaged in plastic tubes, removing the need to eat with utensils or to take the time to remove a peel. Instead, we can just squeeze and swallow. I recently had a mother of a toddler tell me how wonderful this was. “He can eat three squeeze tubes of fruit all at once. If it were ‘real’ fruit, I could barely get him to eat a whole piece. It’s like he barely even tastes it!
In order for us to savor something, we need to slow down, really taste the food or drink in front of us, and enjoy the cuisine and the company around us.
Food shouldn’t be just about fueling the machine; it should be a way of building community with others and of focusing on ourselves and what we eat.
So how can we encourage children to savor the flavor rather than rushing through meal time? Thankfully, the Montessori community understands the importance of building community, eating communally, and creating a beautiful environment where we can enjoy a meal together. Here are some additional ideas to incorporate in your Montessori environment from the article The Montessori Method of Eating by Karen Le Billon. (Billon, 2014)
- Grow your own food. Plant a garden with the children, allowing them to be involved in the planning, digging, planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting. Knowing where your food comes from and what it takes to grow helps children develop an appreciation for what they eat.
- Include children in the preparation of the food. Let the children prepare snack. Host community meals where the children prepare, or help prepare, the meal. Bake bread together. Make salads and smoothies from what you harvest in your garden.
- Take time to transform the dining environment into a place that is beautiful and peaceful. You can cultivate a peaceful dining experience in the classroom using flower arrangements, calm music, cloth placemats, and real place settings.
- Use breakable materials. Something changes when children (and adults) use real plates and glass cups. They move with intention, mindful of their actions. There is a small but noticeable change in the environment as children exercise care and responsibility. And if something gets broken, the children learn how to clean it up and to be more careful next time.
- Offer vegetables and fruit first. Start your meal with a salad before placing the main dish on the table. If the bowl of spaghetti is the first thing the children see, the salad may be forgotten.
- Encourage children to serve each other. Rather than waiting on them, allow children the freedom and independence to serve themselves and others. This grace and courtesy extends the idea that eating is a social activity.
When we teach healthy eating routines alongside nutrition, children learn to appreciate living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
It isn’t enough just to talk about nutrition and what we eat. We must change the way we approach how, why, and when we eat as well. In other words, we need to slow down and savor the flavor!
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, March 18, 2016.