Episode summary:

Susan talks with Jeanne-Marie Paynel, founder of Voila Montessori and parenting mentor, about establishing kid-friendly rituals and routines–including food preparation and cleanup– to make meals a time of connection, learning, and nourishment.

Founder and CEO of Voila Montessori, Parenting Mentor, and Home Consultant. Jeanne-Marie Paynel helps expectant parents, caregivers, and parents of young children to prepare their homes for their children to thrive during the first years of life. She believes that a supportive and peaceful atmosphere at home will allow every child to grow up as an independent and confident learner. She combines her three passions: Montessori, Conscious Parenting, and Positive Discipline. https://voilamontessori.com/

Things you’ll learn from this episode:


  • Establishing meal-time rituals and routines

  • Setting up a kid-friendly kitchen

  • Involving young children in meal preparation

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Speaker 1: (00:09)

Hello and welcome back to another episode of the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcas. I’m Susan Stifelman, your host. I’m a marriage and family therapist and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence and I love that you’re here. Welcome. My guest today is Jeanne-Marie Paynel. Hi Jeanne-Marie. Hello Susan. So good to be here. We’re going to be talking about family meals. We’re going to have a great conversation. First I want to share a little bit of information for those of you interested in what we’re up to in our Parenting Without Power Struggles community. So if you go to Susanstiffelman.com you’re going to find a free report on reducing power struggles. And you can also sign up for my free newsletter, which will deliver lots of tips and news about upcoming events. You’ll also find information about my monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program where I work with moms and dads and grandparents and teachers and caregivers personally. 

Speaker 1: (01:13)

And you’ll see lots of free articles as well as a list of classes and events on everything from handling homework to chores to meltdowns to highly sensitive parents and children. So we’d love you to join our parent community and I hope you’ll visit Susanstiffelman.com to stay connected. And now let’s get started. Jeanne Marie Paynel is the founder and CEO of Voila Montessori and is a parenting mentor and home consultant. She guides expectant parents, caregivers, and parents of young children in preparing their homes for their children to thrive during the first years of life. John Murray gives talks locally and internationally where she combined her three passions, Montessori conscious parenting and positive discipline. Her website is your parenting mentor.com welcome Jeanne-Marie. 

Speaker 2: (02:09)

Thank you. Thanks for having me, Susan. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

Speaker 1: (02:13)

So family meals can be a time of a lot of chaos and drama where parents are trying to get their kids to sit still or just take three bites. What suggestions could you offer that would help parents make mealtime what I believe it should be. A time of joy and connection and nourishment. 

Speaker 2: (02:32)

Beautiful question. And, and it’s actually a question that I get a lot as well. And so I would just start with really observing yourself first because we tend to expect our children to sit still at the dinner table while we keep on getting up because we forgot the salt and paper or because we want to go get the next thing. So I really, really want you to plan ahead and to really be conscientious about what your wanting this mealtime to be like. So if you really want everybody to sit at the table for the duration of the meal plan ahead, uh, you know, have everything on the table or have a little cart next to the table where you have everything so you do not need to get up. And this I think is the first, uh, the first step really is that whole modeling. 

Speaker 2: (03:31)

And really it starts, you know, from the very beginning is to really plan to have family meals on a daily basis. For me, it should be really part of our daily routines. This is a time, like you say, we connect where and you know, and this is maybe my European upbringing, like meal time is kind of sacred and, and it’s always been and you know, for me, for my two children, uh, we had meals together from, you know, from the very beginning. And for me it was really also a time, especially when they grew older, a time to really catch, uh, things that were going on in their lives. Really a time to be able to check in with everybody in, in such. But that is, the foundation is really set at the very, very beginning. 

Speaker 1: (04:26)

So I think one of the things I want to add, thank you for that because I think what we model is so important and also setting a clear intention. I would invite parents to consider re-evaluating your goal for the meal. If the goal is about getting your child to consume X number of grams of each of the items on their plate, then I can almost guarantee that you will have power struggles with your children. Because food is a very personal experience. You cannot control what your child consumes, you can influence it. And we talk about that a lot in all of the work that I do. But if you consider that the goal is rather to do what John Marie was saying about checking in with your children, creating an atmosphere of joy and fun feeling connected. And my advice would be to back off in the scrutinizing of what they eat, you know, the quantity or how many things they’ve tasted. And that is really a big topic. I know for parents that we’ll explore another episode, but we start by that kind of European model of mealtime being a time for the family to stop everything else and come together. And the stress that often happens when our expectations are confused, when we both expect that connection to happen and that conversation to happen. And also this quantity of food to eaten. 

Speaker 2: (05:58)

Yes. And I, and I will add, uh, two, I love what you just said about, you know, what our expectations are that the understanding also about what we put on the table. So I’m, I’m a lot more about the kind of the family meal style where we have just one, one meal, one, you know, there, there may be vegetables, protein, whatever, and really letting the child serve themselves from a larger dish. Because again, we tend to put on our child’s plate what we quote on quote, expect them to eat. Oh, you know, they must be hungry, they need to eat and such. And I’m a really firm believer that children are a lot wiser and a lot more in tune with what their body is asking for. And so if we really, really just, uh, propose healthy, uh, you know, an array of healthy foods, they will serve themselves. 

Speaker 2: (06:57)

And remembering that children, uh, contrary to us, they’re kind of their, um, how do you say their, their nutritionist plate is not a daily plate, but it is, uh, it’s more Ahmed on a seven day cycle. We tend to think that, you know, we have to have everything a balance in one day. The child is very different. The child is going to maybe, you know, really, um, want protein on one day and then a grain on another day and that is fine. Like really follow them and really let them be in charge of what their body is asking for a as opposed to, you know, like you say, forcing anything because they are very wise and they will never let themselves starve. So just remembering that I think is really important and kind of takes that pressure off of us as well. 

Speaker 1: (07:52)

I love that and I love the idea that we don’t decide for our children what their body needs because that’s one of the factors that ultimately can contribute to later eating disorders. When they’ve left, they’ve, they’ve lost touch with their own sensibility or their own body’s requirements or, or needs. So I love that they, you put the full bowl of peas out and they decide how many to take. 

Speaker 2: (08:19)

Exactly. Exactly. Oh that whole power struggle disappears when we, when we do that, when we really asked them to participate. 

Speaker 1: (08:27)

Great. So let’s talk about age appropriate expectations because again, this is where we can get into trouble with our kids, where we have this idea of how they should be or what they should be capable of and we miss out on who the child actually is and what’s within reason for them in terms of sitting at the table, what they should be consuming and all that. 

Speaker 2: (08:48)

So for, for one it really starts, like I said, from modeling from the very beginning, as soon, soon as the child can sit upright by themselves. And I do say by themselves, so natural, you know, movement development, I really invite you to have them on at a chair, at a high chair that pushes up to the dinner table and be with you from the very beginning. So whether they are consuming food right then and there, it doesn’t matter. It’s really being there with you, observing you, you are modeling what are the cultural etiquette of, you know, how it is that you, you, you know, what utensils you use, how you wipe your mouth with your napkin or not or you know, all of these different things. They are absorbing it all. And then, and then, you know, at that very young age you can offer something that they can, uh, nipple on or or such. 

Speaker 2: (09:48)

And then really, uh, you know, for me it’s really about giving them the tools, the appropriate cultural tools. So if you are using utensils to eat or chopsticks or whatever, give those to them from a very young age, whether they will be able to use them properly, that’s not the point. They need to be experimenting. Uh, with them. A, an 18 month old is completely capable of sitting at the table with you and using a fork or spoon, uh, even sometimes a knife, uh, and, and using a real cup, no need for sippy cups. I’m really about, you know, empowering children to use, um, art, cultural utensils at from the very beginning. Like, I don’t dumb things down for them. There’s no need for four sippy cups and things like that. You know, it, it, it is maybe a little bit messier, but they are learning a lot faster if their shirt gets wet when they, you know, when they, when they and, and Jessie be aware that yes, it’s going to be, you know, embrace the messiness. It’s all part of it. Like, you know, so yes. 

Speaker 1: (11:05)

So I often advise parents and I have so many parents coming to me whose children are what they call fussy about meals. And my suggestion often includes an encouragement that they involve their kids in the preparation or the presentation of the food. And that sort of includes cooking. Can you say a bit about how parents can do that even as you say, while they embrace the mess or the chaos and what do you think about that idea that kids are more likely to want to sit down at the table or eat the food if they’ve been involved in preparing or presenting it? 

Speaker 2: (11:39)

You are music to my ears because that is exactly what I encourage all the families that I work with is to really, really involve them. Because so many times I get parents kind of complaining that, you know, Oh gosh, I can never get, you know, dinner ready because my child is there wanting to be with me. And it’s like, well yes, they’re telling you something, you know, they’re saying involve me, show me how to do these things because they’re their, you know, their biggest, um, curiosity is to do what they have seen and what they have been watching us do. So involve them from the very beginning. And this means really, um, looking at your environment. So the kitchen, where can you make on a lower shelf or in a lower drawer, have some utensils for the young child that they can easily have access to. 

Speaker 2: (12:36)

So this starts even when they’re crawling, when they can go and look in that lower drawer and maybe it’s just, you know, Tupperwares and things that aren’t going to break, but they are, they’re rummaging in there, they’re in the kitchen with you. You’re not sending them off to, you know, occupy themselves while you’re in the kitchen and then really plan ahead where you know, you know, you know what you need to prepare for the evening or for the lunch meal. See what piece of the puzzle you can hand off to the child with, you know, with not the expectation that they’re going to be able to be successful from the very beginning. But really it’s more about, again, that connection and giving them that significance and belonging that they, that they need to be part of the community. And I always give the example of, you know, for example, you’re, you’re making a mashed potatoes so you have to wash a few potatoes, peel them, cook them, mash them, and all of this. 

Speaker 2: (13:38)

Well, for a young child, just giving them a one potato with a little scrub brush and asking them to clean it is just enough. They feel involved when the mashed potatoes are going to be put on the table, they’re going to believe that they are responsible for that, right? So it’s just really giving them a small piece of the puzzle. And as they progress in, you know, mastering these skills, well then yes, you can give them the peeler and then when they’re cooked, you can give them that, the masher and so on and so forth, so that they build on the skills. 

Speaker 1: (14:13)

Nice. And that includes with, you know, with not too much older. I mean, I’ve, I’ve had my son, uh, cutting things like zucchini with a dinner knife when he was certainly when he was three, if not before. Would you agree? 

Speaker 2: (14:27)

Oh, I w I start way earlier. Uh, yeah, I mean, a little butter knife. Uh, you can cut bananas, you can cut avocados, uh, you know, things that are soft up, peeling, hardball day, eggs, wonderful, wonderful, fine motor skills, wonderful way of concentration. Uh, all the activities in the kitchen that involve food or water are just so attractive to children. 

Speaker 1: (14:53)

Great. Awesome. So the last thing I want to touch on is, um, something that I think we both believe and you know, sometimes this is an area that’s a little challenging for parents, but we both seem to speak on the notion that it’s very empowering for children to, to learn how to clean up after themselves and that that’s part of the cycle of preparing and enjoying a meal. How can parents engage their kids in that aspect of family meals? 

Speaker 2: (15:26)

Just making it part of the routine that is just, it’s just, you know, it’s just part of it. We set the table, we bring plates to the table and then when we’re done we bring them to the sink. And, and again, if we simplify the task, they’re going to really enjoy, uh, you know, washing the dishes, putting them away, uh, putting them in the dishwasher. So it’s just really, for me, it’s about having this mindset that we are not our children servants, we are their guides, right? So we are guiding them to master these skills and is just about, Oh, let me show you how we put the dishes away and, and show them and, and do it with them. And when they’re older is just like, Oh, do you remember where the dishes go? And that’s it. Like curiosity questions without, you know, commanding and say, you know, butcher played away and, and, and all of that. Like it’s really about engaging them and it’s about collaboration. You’re living in a community, it’s a, it, the family is, is the community. So give them, you know, uh, access to those skills from the very, very young age. 

Speaker 1: (16:38)

I really love that and I love that you use the word routine because many power struggles happen because we change our minds regularly. One day they need to clear the table or load the dishwasher and the next day they put up a fuss and we say, fine, I’ll do it myself. The more that we can ritualize these activities, the less we end up arguing and negotiating about them. And, and that tone that you use is so sweet. It’s a friendly tone. It’s not a commanding authoritarian tone, it’s just this is what we do. This is part of how we function as a family community is that we, you know, by the food, we wash the food, we cut and prepare the food, we cook the food, we put the food into bowls, we bring it to the table, we eat it. And then we, we do the second part of that, which is we bring the plates, we rent them off, we load them, we put dry them off, we put them away after washing. So the more we can make those things that we simply do without escalating by ordering our kids around, uh, or changing our minds regularly, uh, the easier it becomes to have that just be the whole look of the meal from start to finish. Definitely. 

Speaker 2: (17:48)

And it’s also that, you know, I’m, I, I tend to work with families with younger children, so, so from birth through six years, and we know now that that is a very, very sensitive time for them. For order for, like you say, the routines, the ritual, the, the, even the physical order. That’s why I really, you know, encourage you to set up an area in the kitchen where they can get things themselves. Where if you lower those plates down to a place where they can do it, they will start. If you have it as a routine that they will take it upon themselves without being reminded that, you know, it’s like you just need to say, Oh, it’s dinner time, what do we need to do? And they will start setting the table because you have been empowering them from the beginning and you have created an environment where they can do it themselves and this is what they want to be doing in the first place. So yes. 

Speaker 1: (18:47)

Right. So John Marie, I love to wrap up every episode with a tip and I can think of many that you could share, but would you choose one thing that you would help parents think about in the week ahead? Something that they could consider or try in their family related to mealtime. 

Speaker 2: (19:07)

So one thing that I like to remind parents about wanting to show a child a new skill is this acronym that I use with just show. So S, H, O, w and it stands for slow hands, omit words ten two. We tend to move very quickly. So when the child is first learning something, please slow motion, slow down your movement so that they can really observe and take in what is expected of them and then just stop talking. Like we tend to just over explain everything and really that takes away their focus and their concentration on the hand movement because especially a young child, when we start talking what they’re going to look at our mouth, they’re not gonna look at our hands. So really slow hands omit words is something that, um, I know has been very, very useful for many parents. I hope it can be useful for you. 

Speaker 1: (20:12)

Oh, I love that. Thank you. Thank you so much Jeanne-Marie  for taking part in the series. I love that you were here and that parents can find out more about your wonderful work. What is your website for those who want to discover more about what you’re up. 

Speaker 2: (20:28)

So it is your parenting mentor.com and um, and there you will find a lot of, uh, you know, different ideas and ways for us to 

Speaker 1: (20:39)

connect. That’s great. Well, everyone, as always, I love that you’re here, that you’re tuning in. I hope you’ve this conversation. Encourage you to subscribe to the podcast and maybe leave a rating or a review and please visit Susanstiffelman.com if you’d like to get our newsletter or you’re interested in masterclasses. And if you want to try the membership program, remember you can use coupon code Podcast19 and your first month will be just $1. So if you could use more ongoing support, I hope you’ll check it out at Susanstiffelman.com/membership that’s it for this week. I look forward to joining you on our next episode and meanwhile, remember that no matter how busy life gets 

Speaker 3: (21:27)

those moments of sweetness and joy, I’ll see you next time.

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