The summer season inspires reveries of carefree, morning-to-night child’s play, bookended with leisurely breakfasts and barbecues or picnics. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Summer is an ideal time to ensure that play and food don’t conflict in your family’s life. After all, eating is one of life’s great pleasures. Why not make one of our greatest joys a happy experience?
The notion of play is underrepresented in current American childhood. Just think about the ideals of childhood in Tom Sawyer or Stand By Me, and compare them with a typical American child’s day in today’s school systems. Kindergartners are barraged by testing and are consequently pressured to generate high test scores.
This state of events is unfortunate because the human brain’s maximum potential is stimulated by play. Inspiration and innovation flow from playful moments. Play is an absolutely essential ingredient to a living, successful mind.
The fact that play is fading at the dinner table makes it all the more important. Meals are consumed on the go, or in conjunction with a passive activity, such as watching TV. Kids also field a lot of tension from their parents around eating. Many parents are preoccupied with trying to get their kids to match the gusto with which they ate as new-borns. Infants require far more calories in proportion to their body weight than they do as toddlers and children. Adults tend to equate their own need for food as the standard, and fret when their children aren’t eating as much as they are. And as we all know, dread and play don’t mix well. So, how do we reintroduce play into eating?
First, know that if your young child’s height and weight are growing well (just ask your pediatrician), they are getting plenty of food. It is almost unheard of for a child to push away food he or she doesn’t need to eat. No one should push them to eat what they don’t want to eat. Make sure that all the choices available are healthy—no junk food substitutions. You’ll feel good when they begin to make healthy choices on their own.
Approach mealtime with a playful attitude. Make creative snacks, such as paperback-shaped sandwiches, green and blue Earth Day cupcakes, vegetable skewers, or banana bites on Popsicle sticks.
This summer, when school is out, let’s make sure the table where we gather to eat is a place that inspires a healthy, stimulating family environment and encourages a resilient childhood.