From September 2023 the EYFS requires that children are within your hearing and sight while they are eating. However this is a really good rule to follow straight away so don’t wait. Here are my five tips for smoother and safer mealtimes. (Learned via lots of trial and many errors!)
ONE: Get children into good routines.
Start training ALL the children to go to the toilet and wash their hands before they eat. You should already be helping children wash their hands before they eat so it shouldn’t be too hard to add an extra step if necessary. Make sure you plan in lots of time for this, especially at first, it may take longer than you think but it will be worth it!
It is good for the children to learn simple routines such as this and seeing older children go to the toilet while hopefully inspire the younger children when it comes to their turn to potty train. (There’s nothing like a bit of gentle ‘peer pressure,’ even if you are only two!) Making sure everyone has gone to the toilet before you eat will also reduce the chance of someone needing it halfway through your meal.
Obviously babies and very young children will not be at the ‘go to the toilet’ stage yet but they can start learning how to wash their hands properly. I use a poster with simplified steps as a visual prompt for very young children so they can practise while I support them.
TWO: Get everything ready before you sit down. (This is harder than it looks – I know from experience! Don’t worry if it takes a few goes to get into a routine.)
Make sure you have everything you will need before you sit. Will you need a jug of water? Flannels or a cloth for spills or sticky hands? Tissues for runny noses? If you have lots of children invest in an apron with a large pocket that you can pop things in so they are handy when you need them.
Don’t forget something for you to eat and drink too, even if it is only something small if you like to eat the majority of your meal later. This helps you model things like good manners and will help you feel better and more rested too.
THREE: Have a useful distraction for early finishers.
It happens to us all! You have one child that has eaten everything before you have barely put the plate down and another one that can take an hour to eat half a sandwich. Children should be encouraged to start to sit and wait for others to finish eating but this can be a big ask for some little ones! I find it really helpful to have a copy of the book we are concentrating on, (currently Goldilocks and the Three Bears,) so that I can read it to the children while they eat, or I can give it to early finishers to look at the pictures.
FOUR: Make sure you plan meal times around drop off and pick up times.
The last thing you need is parents arriving in the middle of your mealtimes and disrupting everything. Plan when you have your mealtimes so that you have time for each child to finish calmly before you have to answer the door to parents. It can be really helpful to share the times you have your meals with parents and tell them that you are unable to answer the door during those times. Then stick to your guns! After all it is for their child’s benefit and safety that you are doing this.
FIVE: Train children to expect the unexpected. You cannot plan for every eventuality. Sooner or later something will happen that you do not expect. If something happens that means that you must leave the children to attend quickly to an emergency but will be unable to see them then move their food somewhere where they cannot reach it while you attend to the emergency. You can practise this with the children so they get the idea that they will get their food back. (For example if you are practising tip TWO, forget something you need and have to pop into another room to get it.) However, remember an upset child is far better than a child being injured or worse if you cannot see them choking.
Do you have any more tips for safe and smooth mealtimes? Share them in the comments below.
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Making sure children are safe at mealtimes is just one of the things that you must do to ensure that you are following all the EYFS safeguarding requirements. If you would like some support with this I recommend the NEW 3 in 1 safeguarding pack for childminders. This pack contains three useful tools in one pack. An editable safeguarding policy, 40 multiple choice safeguarding questions and a safeguarding audit list. You can find out more by following the link below:
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Why not get the children involved with some health and safety topics too?
As a childminder you have a choice about what activities you do with the children you look after so why not do some topics that could really make a difference to their lives? Taking the time to explore topics like healthy eating, making friends, sun safety, oral health, fire and road safety will not only really help the children, but it will make you feel that you are doing something truly valuable with the time you are spending with them. The ‘Be Safe Be Healthy,’ pack is a collection of 14 mini printable packs with resources to help childminders to teach 14 health and safety topics to 2-5 year old children.