How progressive meals are a ritual

progressive meals

Have you given much thought to progressive meals before? I would like you to take a few moments to imagine that you are working away on an important project for work when your boss interrupts you and tells you to stop what you are doing, pack everything away, and go and have lunch. Not only have you lost track of your creative thoughts, but you are not very hungry. Now replace this scenario with your child who may be also busy building and creating. When we tell them it is time for lunch, we are disrupting their imaginative play and learning which may result in your child having a meltdown.

At Sydney Early Education Centres we believe children are capable citizens with rights and are active participants in their learning. They have the right to say, for example, ‘I’m not hungry right now’. This is why at SEEC we have a ‘rhythm of the day’ rather than a set routine. Our rhythm of the day is flexible and child-centred, our days involve large periods of indoor and outdoor learning and play, often simultaneously, allowing the children choice and to be immersed in more complex learning and social engagement. Rituals such as meals and rest periods have predictable times, however, are progressive and guided by the children’s needs and choices, such as sibling lunches. 

Why progressive meals at Sydney Early Education Centres? 

At SEEC we value each meal experience as a meaningful ritual which involves care, intention, and a high level of organisation. Our educators first involve the children in the preparation of the meal and/or tables and atmosphere. Each child is then given a choice of where to sit at the table and who to sit next to, how much food they would like to eat or not eat, or if they would like to continue playing and join for the next lunch round. Most of our meals provide opportunities for the children to self-serve their food. It is important for children to have the capacity for choice and independence.

Progressive meals allow children the freedom to continuous play and the right to choose when they are hungry. Children are much more likely to eat all their meal and try new foods if their voices are heard and they have more control over when they are feeling hungry. 

Children’s growing competence is supported and gives them responsibility and independence. In our youngest children, it allows for flexible rituals of eating when they are ready in between their sleeping times.

If meals are positive experiences, children’s learning and development can be shaped along with their health and well-being. At SEEC when we have less children and educators enjoying a meal together, not only does it reflect a regular family meal situation, but our educators can use this time to help build relationships and role model positive choices with food. Our educators can have meaningful interactions when we slow down, have smaller groups, and allow children to be involved in the different processes, like serving and cleaning. 


Cleaning the table
Setting the table
Preparing the food

How do progressive meals work at SEEC? 

  • The children help set the table and sometimes help prepare the meal with our centre’s chef. 
  • The children are invited to come and sit at the table. If they choose to continue to play, they will be invited later. 
  • The children are encouraged to self-serve their food and sometimes to serve others.
  • The children are given a last call for meals, giving them the last opportunity to eat before it is packed away. This is also when children are invited for more if they would still like some. 
  • The older children are encouraged to help clean their plates, utensils and tables.

How can families make meals into rituals at home?  

While the majority of SEEC’s meals are progressive (we do enjoy a picnic style or celebration gathering as well), it is important to make meals, if they are progressive or not, enjoyable and pleasant for children. 

Here are some tips on how to make your meals more pleasant at home: 

Engage your child in preparing the meal

This provides great one on one time with your child, teaches them new skills, and may even encourage them to try food they haven’t liked before. 

Ask your child to help set the table

Children learn to count the number of forks and knives and take care in preparing the table for others. 

Take time to play

While dinner is cooking take time to engage with your child. You could play a game, do a puzzle, read a book, or do help them with homework if they are older. 

Give advanced warning to prepare your child

When it is nearly time for dinner, prepare your child by saying, “Archie dinner will be ready in 10 mins. I will set my alarm to let you know”. This gives a child time to finish what they are doing and come to the table when they are called. 

Make meals fun

You could light some candles and play some music while you are eating. You could also talk about what they like to eat as well as your favourite foods. 

Further reading and references:

Lyon, M & Christie, T (2019). Rituals: making the everyday extraordinary in early childhood. Childspace: New Zealand.

We hope that this article has made you think about some of the changes you could make at home with your mealtimes. If you would like to find out more about our service you can book a tour or send us a message.

Written By

Ann-Marie McConville, CEEC Director

Similar Posts