Food preparation plays an important role in the Infant Community day! Children not only prepare their own snack; they also take a major role in getting lunch on the table!
Each morning, two children have the opportunity to prepare the vegetables that will be served for lunch. Preparing starts with choosing: each classroom has its own fridge, and the two food prep children get to select vegetables from the fridge. They cut the vegetables (after getting ready: putting on aprons, wiping the table, brining out cutting boards and vegetable cutters), and place them in a bowl. A teacher then walks with them as they push our food cart to the kitchen, were our cook cooks their vegetables up for lunch.
Later in the morning, at the end of the morning work period, all children work together to get the tables ready for lunch: they put two smaller tables together to form a larger lunch table. They carry the chairs to it, put a tablecloth on it. A child may then count out the child-sized china plates, which her friends carefully carry, one-by-one to the table. Another child will count out (in Chinese or Japanese) forks, glasses, napkins, all of which get put on the table by the children themselves. Before they go out for morning recess, the children themselves will have thus set their lunch table!
After coming back inside, children wash hands, and get seated—while the two food prep helpers march off to the kitchen, ask our cook (in Chinese!) for their food, and push the cart back to the classroom.
The lunch ritual then starts with pre-lunch words or a short song in both Japanese and Chinese. A teacher presents the food and drink, providing the children with the name of each item in either Chinese or Japanese (on alternating days.) A teacher pours water into a small pitcher by each child’s plate; the child then pours the water in his glass. Then these toddlers serve themselves from small bowls, passing the bowls around the table, then eat, seated properly, with their forks. They stay seated, eating civilly, for 15 or 20 minutes!
Parents often ask how toddlers (!) can do all of this. The answer, in a word: a carefully prepared environment, where nothing is left to accident. The food is offered in bit-sized pieces. It is the same for all children. It’s served in small-sized containers, on plates that are beautiful and identical for each child. There is plenty of time—and clear, consistent expectations for each child’s behavior, as well as peer role modeling.
As a result, toddlers are able to enjoy nourishing, healthy foods, to build a community around the most ancient of human rituals: sharing a meal with friends.