Preschoolers can serve their own lunch!

Today, I observed these preschoolers serving their own lunch. Let me begin by saying that the room was not quiet and there were a few dropped cups along the way (luckily all empty).

Looking around, I saw children serving themselves in a orderly, considerate, and talkative manner. It was quite fun to be there with them….. It has take commitment and time from the teachers to help these preschoolers successfully learn this process and I observed amazing results today.

The preschoolers washed their hands then came over to the table. At one end of the lunch table they found cups, plates, and silverware ready for them to collect.

Each child picked up his or her own plate, cup, and napkin.  I noticed that the children have learned (or have been taught) to place their cup and wrapped silverware in the center of their plate so they can walk to where they will be sitting. Talk about working on balance!

After gathering their dishes, they picked a place to sit at the table. These children have been practicing their table setting skills everyday!

Then the children began to serve their own food. Today they used a large spoon to scoop out some yummy potatoes. I was getting hungry watching the action – everything smelled so good.

Another spoon was in the green beans for scooping. Practicing that eye-hand coordination!

The children passed the baskets or bowls around the table until everyone was served.

Tongs were used to serve the ham, apples, and muffins. Talk about developing those fine motor skills!

Each child poured their own cup of milk too!

The milk was passed around the table so everyone could serve up a cup  of milk and occasionally, some assistance was needed. The teachers stayed with their students and helped out where needed but the emphasis was always on helping children serve themselves.

Then the teachers served their own plates and sat down at the table with the children to eat too. This gave the teachers the chance to model good table manners, considerate conversation, and proper eating habits…

And just to show you that these preschoolers are typical…

Did you know if you fold your ham over and take a bite, it makes circles you can see through?

A great place to start teaching children how to serve themselves is during snack time.

I know that there are many preschools or programs that do not allow children to serve themselves due to various concerns, but I wanted to show you how much children can learn and do when given the opportunity.

By |2010-07-31T06:00:14+00:00July 31st, 2010|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Famika B July 31, 2010 at 9:39 am - Reply

    Like this blog! Our preschoolers bring there own lunch but we provide the milk and silverware. Our snack is self-serve though and it really does help them be a responsible for their own food.

    • Deborah J. Stewart July 31, 2010 at 10:33 am - Reply

      I am glad you like this blog – and thrilled that you let your students serve themselves for snack!

  2. Karen Nemeth July 31, 2010 at 9:43 am - Reply

    This is great, but you forgot something! You forgot to mention that the children in these pictures were also checking off their learning objectives in math (spatial, one-to-one, size comparison) science (physical properties of different foods, using senses), language and literacy (conversation), social/emotional (manners, helping, sharing, self-regulation), fine motor (tongs, pouring, scooping). When you see lunch done well like this – teachers could accomplish their whole lesson plan in one mealtime – and everyone could spend the rest of the day relaxing!

    • Deborah J. Stewart July 31, 2010 at 10:27 am - Reply

      How could I forget all of those valuable learning objectives!! I am glad I have your support to bring even more to light as to how children learn. You are awesome Karen!

  3. erin July 31, 2010 at 9:46 am - Reply

    Ours is a half day pre-k. We don’t have lunch but we do snack as a center where the children serve themselves. It takes a little time in the beginning, but it’s well worth the effort! Especially the pouring skills 🙂

  4. Teacher Tom July 31, 2010 at 11:04 am - Reply

    We don’t serve meals either, but our kids are more or less self-sufficient at the snack table.

    I really hated the whole swine flu scare at the beginning of the last school year. People started worrying that if the kids served themselves from communal bowls it would cause the spread of a deadly illness. I know better than to step in when young parents are freaking out about their kids’ health and safety, but I watch kids play together all day long — they’re going to transmit their diseases no matter how careful we are! In fact, the snack table is one of the least likely places to transmit disease because the kids have just washed their hands. Learning these self help skills young is important. I’ve been reading that kids are showing up on college campuses not knowing how to do basic things like boil water and open cans — this is where it starts.

    • Deborah J. Stewart July 31, 2010 at 12:05 pm - Reply

      If we could view the snack or lunch time routine as a learning opportunity for life skills then perhaps college students will be better prepared for independent living. I have college age nieces and nephews living near me and I am always surprised at what they don’t know how to do. We work on everything such as how to start the washing machine, how to preheat the oven, why you shouldn’t wash red clothes with the white ones:) The list just goes on. Preschoolers can learn these things too and no need to wait until college to develop those life skills.

  5. Rachel July 31, 2010 at 11:58 am - Reply

    I WISH I could let my pre-k students serve themselves! I brought the idea along with learning goals/objectives to administration and was shot down before I even finished my proposal. They went on and on about the amount of time it would take, how it was not sanitary, etc.
    I went back to my classroom feeling defeated – but have decided if I can’t do it for lunch I can always let them sever themselves snack – this is done in my classroom and doesn’t need administrative approval!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart July 31, 2010 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      I have heard that many schools will not consider this idea for many of the same reasons. It is disappointing for sure but I am glad that you are seeking alternatives. Well done:) Another way to teach this skill is to have pretend lunches in your classroom where the children are allowed to set the table and serve pretend food and water. It isn’t quite the same but it still teaches some of those skills we are learning.

  6. Rebecca August 1, 2010 at 12:59 am - Reply

    As far as I know the Kinders at our service (long day care kinder) have served themselves for the last 5 years or so. The children serve themselves bread and water with lunch, second course (fruit, cheese or muffins) and morning and afternoon tea, since I started working there I’ve also introduced helping me set the tables, cleaning our cups or bowls after morning or afternoon tea and put them on the drainer to dry, and they also scrape their plates at the end of lunch before putting them in a basket to send off to the kitchen.

    I really like the skills that are promoted and I’m often amazed at how many parents can’t believe their children can ‘do all that’. I also found this kind of practice meant that we could have a special christmas lunch, (as I’m Australian, this is at the end of our school year) where we can have christmas crackers, special hand made gifts, table cloths, christmas napkins that the children were all able to become involved in and showcase all the skills they’ve mastered thought out the year.

    • Deborah J. Stewart August 1, 2010 at 1:10 am - Reply

      You know, I didn’t take photos of clean-up time but these children also assist in scraping the plates and sorting the dishes into the correct tubs. I am so glad you brought up that aspect of participating in the dining experience. I love that you are able to showcase their skills at the end of the school year!! What a wonderful way to end the year as well:)

  7. Almost Unschoolers August 5, 2010 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    That is so great to see! I’m amazed they could pour their own milk from such a large pitcher. Maybe I’ll be more adventurous with my younger ones at home 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart August 5, 2010 at 11:14 pm - Reply

      They really do a nice job. The pitchers are very light weight and they do not fill the pitchers very full so they are easy to pour.

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