I think we’ve all seen those really cute mini-tables meant for kids. They’re very popular in daycare classrooms, and follow more of a Montessori style approach to feeding. They’re pretty much sold everywhere now, with a lot of parents leaning towards them for feeding their kids. I get the appeal…the kids have their own space to eat, you have your own space, you don’t have to have any high chair or booster seat battles – these aspects alone can draw many parents in. But what’s my opinion as a Pediatric Dietitian?
Today, I wanted to chat with you about the pros and cons of using these smaller kid’s tables at home. And here’s the spoiler for this article (or listen to the full podcast episode here too) – I don’t recommend them. I’ll share with you the four reasons why I favour eating all together at a family table, over separating your kid’s from the adults with their own table.
The Pros of Using a Separate Kid’s Table
There are definitely some benefits to using Kid’s tables, so I wanted to start with those! So, what I like about kid’s tables is that they promote independence and a more Montessori style of eating. I think they’re great in a daycare setting where there are multiple kids, they’re sitting with peers and interacting with them, and you want them to be able to access plates and bowls and cups more easily to promote independence. Note that this WILL mean more spills and mess, so if you go this route you need to be prepared for that.
BUT that’s basically it. I really do think there are more cons than pros, so I will always promote, and recommend, that you have your toddler sit with you at the family table when at home.
The top 4 reasons I ALWAYS recommend family tables
If you choose to use a kid’s table, your kids aren’t sitting with you. That’s a con in my books. So, I really am only a fan of kid’s tables if you’re going to sit at them with them…and who’s doing that for every meal? It’s so uncomfortable!
But on the flip side, there’s SO much benefit from your child sitting WITH you at the table. They can watch you eat, model your behaviour, learn table manners, learn how to chew, and learn how to be adventurous with food. It allows you to pull out one of the many strategies I suggest in my Feeding Toddlers course to entice them to interact with their food. With a kid’s table, you’re in silos – adults are over here modelling how to have a meal to NO ONE that needs it…and kids are over here…learning nothing from the adults about how to eat and how to converse.
Now, I will say that if there are siblings at the table with them, that does promote age-appropriate social interaction at the table, which I do like. But again, there’s something else to consider with that. It also means that it’s going to promote peer-to-peer transferred picky behaviour, and can also promote more raucous behavior.
Which brings me to my next reason.
Using a kid’s table provides the ability for them to leave the table and come back a hundred times during the meal. So, unless you’re prepared to end mealtimes when they leave, and set a strict boundary around that (which is great if you do) – I recommend keeping them at the family table to limit this behaviour. It’s so much harder for them to get out and leave, because they’ll most likely be using a booster seat, or a high chair, until they can safely sit in an adult chair to eat. Again, the behaviour you model influences them so much better than the behaviour other kids model.
Eating at the family table is better from a safety perspective. You can strap them into a booster seat, or high chair if you can bring it right up to the table to include them. You can watch them while they eat so that you notice any choking (which is silent, remember). You can coach them to take small bites, slow down, or drink water, as needed. And again, they aren’t getting up and wandering around with food in their mouth throughout the meal.
The final reason that I prefer family tables over kid’s tables is for the family connection. It’s one of the only times families have to get together throughout the day. We’re all busy (including your toddler) during the day, and we each have our own schedules. But if we can use even one opportunity per day to sit down together over a family meal and connect – oh boy is it ever worth it!
This is one of the best things I’ve done for my kids as they grow up. And although it was super hard some nights to make it happen, I really set it as a priority, and I’m convinced it was one of the best things I’ve done for them to help them be more adventurous with their eating. It also provides connection for all of us daily, we get to share those moments together, and have conversations that are actually deep, believe it or not.
And while I know that it may seem daunting to include our toddlers in a family dinner with adults, I firmly believe that if you treat your kids like they are capable, they will rise to the occasion. But, treat them like they can’t do it, and like they need a separate table because they can’t handle normal dinner at the big people’s table, and they’ll think (and act like) that’s what they need as well.
So, do I really never recommend using a kid’s table?
Here’s the thing, I’m not saying that a kid’s table doesn’t serve a purpose, they can have a time and a place, but I highly encourage setting the precedent that the family table is where everyone in the family belongs – including your baby or toddler.
So if you’re used to having your kid’s eat separately from yourself, and you want to begin having everyone sit together at the family table, but you’re worried it would be a disaster if they did…I want you to look into taking my Feeding Toddlers online course. It’s the most holistic course on feeding on the market, and that’s because it takes into account a lot of general parenting aspects as well. It shows you not just what to feed your toddler for optimal health, but HOW to feed them and set up the environment so they want to eat, and so they overcome any picky behaviour they’ve started to show. It’s the exact strategy I used to get my kids to go from picky to adventurous, and I know you’ll love it.