As a therapist and someone who grew up with regular shared mealtimes, I was able to recognize the benefits that come to children from a consistent pattern of dining together. So, when my daughter was born, from her earliest days, we seated her with us at (or actually on, in her bouncer) the table. As Teghan grew, she moved on to a highchair seat, which we pushed up to the table, and when she was ready, a booster chair.
There were definitely times when my daughter ate separately in her highchair while I washed dishes or cleaned the kitchen, but it was apparent to me that the quality of our interaction was significantly heightened when we dined together as a family: more frequent eye contact, extended word exchange, spontaneous smiles, and more laughter. I also observed that often my daughter mirrored our eating and verbal styles at the table. By the age of three, she had an impressive vocabulary, and was comfortable talking with people of all ages. I attribute some of that to the learning times that took place at the table.
I wanted to research the benefits of eating together after all my positive experiences, so I investigated published research records. Not surprisingly, virtually all of the studies I read solidly endorsed the benefits of the family mealtime experience, citing enhanced stimulation, closer bonding and more positive self-esteem as key, life-enhancing gains. I was already familiar with Marie Montessori’s perspective, which emphasizes the importance of contained, organized spaces for babies and pre-school-age children. Then, in March of 2000, Harvard published the results of their own survey by tracking 65 children over a period of 8 years. The initiative identified three activities, which consistently emerged as those most likely to maximize healthy, child development: play, story time and activities involving family members. The family dining experience was ranked Number One. (1, 2). Furthermore, their research reinforced the increasingly accepted position that children who share meals with family members develop better language skills as preschoolers. In later years, these children achieve higher success levels in school, better communication patterns, are more likely to avoid harmful substances, and generally make healthier food choices (2, 3). Armed with these and other control-study measurements, I became more convinced that ever: Bringing babies to the table is hugely beneficial!
Along with the acknowledged joy and undisputed developmental gains of eating together, came the unavoidable messes! As a first-time Mom, I was surprised by the amount of time I spent cleaning the table, clothes and the floor-area around the infamous drop-zone–both during, and after, Teghan’s meals. The wood finish on our dining room table was wearing thinner by the day from the many scrubbings I applied to remove eggs, oatmeal and other sticky foods. I tried every bib I could find but none offered much improvement. In talking to other Moms, I discovered that many had prolonged the highchair stage to avoid the messy clean-ups, but my daughter liked eating at the table. What to do? As a firm advocate that “necessity is the mother of invention”, I proceeded to place myself in a solutions mode. From that moment forward, the notion of the TTTray began to germinate.
The first prototype consisted of cardboard, duct tape, and toilet paper rolls! I decided to conduct a test-run with my baby. The experiment worked! I also saw that I was able to set up her entire meal in the kitchen and deliver the tray to the dining table–in one step. Clearly, the features inherent in my conceptualized model provided real time-savers: time I could be spending with my family at the table; and time other parents could be spending with their children.
Today, our daughter uses her Bambinos! Tidy Table Tray + Flexi-Diner for meal-time. Recently, while on vacation, I needed to send my Tray to our photographer for some last-minute shots. So the next morning, we improvised. Not surprisingly, I found oatmeal on Teghan’s dress, the floor and the table. The incident immediately brought forward a vivid reminder of the days before the Tidy Table Tray and all the clean up!
Megan Streit Wilson is the inventor of the Bambinos! Tidy Table Tray, and the president of Bambinos!, LLC. She lives with her family in Colorado.
1. Carter, Jaine and James D. Carter, Scripps Howard News Service. “Eating Together Strengthens Family Ties.” www.newschief.com/stories/022799/lif_family.shtml
2. Background: Research on Family Meals, Martha Marino, MA, RD, CD and
Sue Butkus, PhD, RD 3. Sanford, Carolyn. “Using ‘rare’ words at mealtime can enlarge children’s vocabulary.” record.wustl.edu/archive/1995/09-28-95/4234.html.