‘Mealtime Experience’

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

A focus on how we value mealtimes within our setting, giving our children and staff the time, space and opportunity to enjoy this experience during their day.

Introduction

This project looks at staff and children truly valuing mealtimes within nursery and what improvements can we make to ensure this time is seen as an experience within our daily routine. We would like our mealtimes to be valued as a time within our day where we can come together, chat and have social interactions that may not happen within the home, or throughout our busy experiences. We want to look at how we include families, staff and children within our mealtime experience and how we include them in any changes or developments we make

Context

We had observed that on some day’s mealtimes within all rooms in our setting could be rushed, stressful and not as meaningful as they could be and how we would like. We know that this area was something we wanted to observe closely and reflect upon to make improvements.  Due to covid-19 and policy changes we had to change our self-serving routines for the older children, have children eating at different times etc which, through staff discussions we thought had lost a lot of skills and social interaction with children.

We had already started to look at trialling different ways of carrying out our mealtimes, such as the Swedish lunch approach which details how children enjoy eating together within a very calming and nurturing environment or mealtime. and looking closely at documents such as Food Matters and Realising the Ambition, we found this very beneficial as we started to change our environment with dimed lights, soft music, focal points on our tables which created a calming, relaxing, enjoyable environment for the children and staff.

Within our setting we feel our policies and procedures we have in place are beneficial and up to date with current guidelines incorporating best practice. These include allergies and allergic reactions, healthy eating, and infection control and we are also currently working on our choking prevention policy.

Methodology

Within our setting we have children aged 0-5 years across 4 separate rooms and our mealtimes include breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack.

We wanted to look at all these mealtimes within our setting and gain an understanding of how the staff and children viewed mealtimes as an experience within our setting. To achieve this, we would carry out observations of these times which would give us the time to see how and what is working well and perhaps what was needing to be developed and enhanced. We then have reflection time with staff to discuss findings and discuss what developments and improvements we could adapt to improve.

We would ask all staff to take part in a small 5 question questionnaire where we would ask them to reflect on their view on mealtimes. This information would also be shared and reflected upon with staff to share findings. Within our 3-5 room we will have discussions with them around what they like about our Mealtime experiences, this will be valuable to gain a sense of their enjoyment and what they get from this experience within nursery. Within our under 3 age group observation took place along with many staff discussions around what works well with this age group.

Staff comment “I value the mealtimes as it is one time of the day, we all get to sit down together and chat” Child comment “we talk about the news today and say I love you’’

Findings

From the observations the we carried out we found that there was a mixture of it being rushed, relaxed, staff not being organised which caused confusion and stress as well as in other areas staff all know what they were tasked with and everything flowed very well.

Within all rooms lunch was started after the children had taken part in an experience to relax them: story time, stretching, meditation, songs and there was a change within the environments, lighting, sort music or white noise. It was clear to see that the children as young as babies knew that it was ‘lunch time’

Some rooms were well organised and it was clear to see that this helped with the smooth running of the experience for children and staff, where there was less time for this to be organised, this definitely showed at first as staff would get flustered and at first things would not run as smoothly.

Children were all encouraged to wash their hands and this was supported by staff, chats and songs took place around how it’s important to wash hand before sitting down to eat.

All staff sat down with the children around the tables which has been focused on more since implementing this new routine, some would eat the lunch so that they were eating along with the children. I observed meaningful interactions between staff and children which included chatting about what they were eating, the colours, where they enjoying the food? Children were giving lots of encouragement try their lunch, use cutlery the cutlery provided. Staff know the children very will and would support and encourage children dependant on their age and stage of development. Their voice, choice and needs were clearly shown and respected by staff.

I observed children interacting together in their own special ways including; watching what others were doing, chatting together, smiling, laughing.

CK and CB started to sing “Wind your bobbin up” together.

LMC ‘I’m going to need more, this was good’- This was then reacted to by staff and LMC was encouraged to come over and self-serve more lunch.

Children within or 3-5 room are already in a great routine with their lunch time routine as we started to implemented chances within this room first as we started to look into this research project. The children enjoy the independence of setting the tables, self-serving their meals and helping to cleaning up afterwards.

Children were given the time and space during the lunch time experience as I observed the children being respected and asked if they where finished their lunch, asked if they wanted water, if they were ready for pudding. Staff also informed children what was happening next eg we are going to clear all the plates away and then have pudding.

The questionaries that staff completed were useful towards our project. Staff all agreed that as a setting were work very in regards to involving parents with our Mealtimes. This includes sharing our Menus and asking for suggesting’s and feedback with revies and changes, providing them with a detailed breakdown for what their child’s eats at nursery daily ensuring they feel included within their child’s day and embedding the sense of community. Staff work in partnership with our families if they are needing support with Mealtimes at home or how to support encouraging their child to try new foods/textures.

Questions that have now been raised are:

  • How can we ensure all staff have the knowledge and same expectations during mealtimes? This was raised through observations as it was felt we are still trying to embed new practices though our team and support will be given to ensure this research and project becomes new practice for us as a staff team.
  • Encourage staff to take part in observing mealtime experiences regularly as part of their reflective practice.

Conclusion

In conclusion we have found that mealtimes within our setting is a very beneficial, valued and enjoyable experience within our setting and this will continue to grow. The changes we have started to implement though our research such as changing staff’s mindset regarding the mealtime experience, slowing the experience down for children and staff, staff and children taking the time to engage in conversations, interactions and most importantly, as a setting truly valuing the ‘Mealtime Experience’ within our daily routine. Though time, as we continue to imbed these routines and grow together, we have high hopes that this will evolve and become even more beneficial for us within the setting and we will further develop what we do within the setting and share this with families.

We also feel that we have all the correct policies and procedures in place so that we can carry out mealtimes as safely and efficiently as possible.

This is an aspect of practice that will continue to grow along with our children, staff and families.

Research implications

This project has given us as a whole team the opportunity for reflection and deep thinking around our mealtimes within the setting. Reflecting on our mealtimes with the staff team, we felt that is something that’s part of our daily routine and something that could almost be carried out within out a second thought by us all. The conversations I have had with other colleagues and professionals around this area I knew that the Care Inspectorate were carrying out focused observations around mealtimes, so keeping this in mind I wanted to make a it a priority for improvement and development for us a setting.

 

Taking part in a research project over the last year has been challenging at times due to the current times this sector has faced this includes staff shortages, illness and Government Guidelines and policies put in place due to COVID-19. Managing this within my team has meant I could not implement what we had planned at times for this research project or that this has had to take a backseat while we focused on other factors.

 

I have had discussions with staff through meetings, one to ones and this involved valuing this time of our day and how this we can improve this with research.

 

We have always had nursery policies reflecting Healthy Eating, however on reflection this only touched briefly on the social interactions and the benefits of mealtimes within the setting. I’m now revisiting this policy and including my finding from this research stating within the policy how much we truly value Mealtimes and as a setting we include our Staff, children and families within this wonderful part of our daily routine.

Practitioner enquiry

Undertaking this research project with the support of our local authority and the Froebel network meant we had the opportunity to take time within a busy environment to truly value research on a focused part of our practice. Being involved in this project has given me an understanding of what is involved in a research project, what it entails and what steps to take through the process. It has given me time to reflect on why and how we implement chances within the setting, going forward how I will view and undertake future changes/developments.

 

I value that as a leader I need to ensure I’m taking my team along with me through any improvements, changes and developments. This is why within the research project we have chosen something that collectively as a team we have thought deeply about and reflected on as an aspect we strongly

Leadership learning

Within our nursery Vision, Values and Aims we state that ‘every day is a learning day’ and this rings true when I reflect on this project. I had assumptions of what staff would feedback to me regarding the observation/questionaries and from the feedback comments I was pleasantly surprised. I will now use differ process to gather me staff views within different areas to open my eye to their true views of practice.

 

I feel as a leader this it has now provided me with the tools, skills and drive to take on more research projects using the same process

Author and role

Laura Grattan, Nursery Manager

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Caroline Easton
    Caroline Easton
    26 May 2022 at 7:19 am

    Meal times was such a good topic to research as with provision increasing more and more children are staying longer days. Changing staffs mindset is always very tricky, however, I feel with the detail of your research project it clearly shows that by changing that aspect can have a huge benefit to meal times and how everyone views them. Well done.


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  2. Judith Thomas
    Judith Thomas
    26 May 2022 at 2:32 pm

    Meal times are a very social part of the day for children and I love that you are wanting to ensure this is integrated into the child’s day. Appreciating and valuing the time children spend with their peers whilst eating is an important aspect of the practitioners role and you have identified that this can be an area that needs further development with the pandemic hindering practice. Involving children, families and practitioners in the change looks as if it will impact on your practice moving forward. It would be interesting to see how these changes evolve even further to enhance the connections children have and how practitioners value the opportunities meal times bring, using and seeing these as part of the quality learning experience for children.


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  3. Jacqueline Myles
    Jacqueline Myles
    30 May 2022 at 4:24 pm

    This is a fabulous research project, which I would like to share with my extended team. I firmly believe that mealtimes should be seen as an important part of the day and your project has certainly shown this to be true. Having the opportunity to spend time with the children in an unhurried manner can only create a positive impact and develop good eating habits. I really hope that your project can be shared so that many others can see how positive mealtimes can be. I know of so many young children who do not have the chance to sit at a table and enjoy food together with their family. As Early Years Practitioners we are so lucky to be able to create positive experiences around food and eating.


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  4. Jennifer Gilchrist
    Jennifer Gilchrist
    31 May 2022 at 7:53 am

    I enjoyed reading about this research project, as I felt it could be clearly beneficial for me as a leader and my wider team. Your commitment to positive social mealtimes shines through the project, and it’s clear there has been a positive impact for the children in your setting. In my own setting I will try out your idea of using mealtimes as a time for reflective observations, as I feel this will help me to share our expectations of how mealtimes should be.


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  5. Fiona Canning
    Fiona Canning
    31 May 2022 at 2:16 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your project about you “Mealtime experiences” I think we have all had experiences of hectic meal times in our settings and it’s great you have highlighted the importance of being organised and how this impacts on both the children and the staff. I like that staff are now taking the time to eat with the children and have conversations this will create a lovely nurturing environment. Staff reflecting on their practice during mealtimes will ensure that they continue to discuss what has worked well and what changes they still may need to make in the future.


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