By Sara Bloomberg
Creating opportunities for your 3-6-year-old (and maybe even your older children too) to help you with the preparation of their daily snack can be incredibly rewarding for your child. Successful snack prep can help grow your child’s self-esteem as well as help develop and strengthen their hand-eye coordination, the muscles in their hands, forearms, and their core. The sense of accomplishment they will feel will help to build their self-esteem, their sense of responsibility, and their overall confidence. Once children begin to feel such success and empowerment, they also experience overall feelings of positivity and success. This makes for happier children who want to take more risks and become more productive within their communities.
So what can you do on your end to help facilitate fun food prep scenarios for your children? You can begin by eating more fruits and veggies with your children. You can talk about how absolutely scrumptious they are every time you eat them. Did you know that at the start of every academic year, many parents tell us that their children dislike fruits, but guess what happens a few weeks later? Those very same children see their peers snacking on fruit, and soon they start munching on them too!
To begin this fun ongoing healthy habit use fruits and veggies that your littles love to eat. Start with softer fruits, such as bananas, strawberries, kiwis, and raspberries. (In Montessori land, we typically begin with bananas because they are easy to peel and super easy to cut.)
Next, you can pick out utensils that will fit in your child’s hands. You can even invite your child to help you with this process. You will need
- one or two pieces of fruit
- two small bowls
- a cutting board
- a spreading knife
- a sponge
- a plastic container that you can fill with a small amount of soapy water.
Set the utensils up so that they are somewhat within reach for your children (either when standing or sitting). Building in some stretching movements to the left and the right is also helpful because it helps to use more coordination and focus.
While setting this up be mindful of the direction in which you read. Some languages are read horizontally from right to left; others are read vertically, from top to bottom. Other languages like the text you are reading now are read from left to right, starting at the top. (We always want to set up materials in the same direction as the language we read. This helps train our child’s eyes to begin ‘reading’ in the same direction.)
Start by placing one piece of fruit on the left. Next to that place one small bowl (which you will use for the peels,) a small board, a knife, a bowl, and the plastic container with a sponge and a small amount of soapy water.
Once the environment is set up, begin the sequence by helping your littles to wash and dry their hands. Now the real work begins, but wait, press pause, before you peel the entire banana for your child, begin by starting to peel just the tip of the banana. Hold the fruit while your child peels the rest of it. They can place the peels in the bowl and then place the fruit on the board.
Then let the fun begin! Be close to them as they start to cut. Let them cut (don’t do for them and also restrain yourself from jumping in to help!), and remember this is not about the product but is all about the process. You aren’t preparing a fancy meal for the royal family; this is their snack prep, and they love to prepare their own foods! Be forewarned that some children love to cut a piece and immediately eat it and then cut another piece and put that piece in the bowl to save for later. Others just simply like to eat the fruit all at once. All methods are superb because your littles will be eating and working at the same time! Once they have completed their mission, and the fruit is eaten, cut up and placed in the small bowl, they can put all the utensils into the receptacle with the soapy water. They can either first wash and then later rinse their dishes and then sit and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
You will see the intense focus on your child’s faces and they will feel so proud and accomplished!
If you need some simple independent snack ideas, these snack recipe cards from Montessori Services (affiliate link) are very popular in Montessori classrooms… and they will work well at home too! The set comes with 10 recipes. Check out some of their other food preparation resources here.
Snack Setup Inspiration For Home
Here are some websites that will help you find the most ideal way to create setups that work for you and your children.
Montessori Food Preparation and Cooking
This post features tons of easy food preparation activities shared by teachers from the Trillium Montessori Educators Facebook group. You will be able to adapt many of these for home!
A Day in the Life of a Montessori Toddler
This delightful little daily schedule from Simone Davies, author of The Montessori Toddler, will give you some ideas for organizing your day and including snack and meal times.
Small Space Setup: The Kitchen
Get some ideas for organizing a small kitchen for independence
Toddler Snack Cupboard Tour
This detailed tour from How We Montessori will give you lots of ideas (with visuals!) for setting up an independent snack station at home!
How to Organize Snack and Lunches to Encourage Independence
This article by CleanMama.com provides step by step instructions along with some constructive ideas for healthy snacks for your children. It also gives helpful visual ideas for setting up your fridge so that your children can access their own snacks throughout the day.
Manage Toddler Snacks at Home
This post by Buggy and Buddy is aimed towards supporting the little littles. It shows you ways to create easy to access limited choice ideas that are not too overwhelming for toddlers.
Self Serve Snack Box
This article by Super Healthy Kids provides step by step instructions on exactly how to create snacks for children who are 3-6. It’s easy to follow and not too overwhelming at all.
Have a Smooth Snack Time
This article from Scholastic takes a step back and looks at the big picture. It gives some really easy to follow ideas and directions that make snack time more relaxing, fun, and enjoyable.
Hopefully, one of these links will support you on your way to creating independent snack experiences for your children.