Do you struggle with encouraging your kids to try new foods? Do you want to give your kids more autonomy at the dinner table? Then, try serving meals family-style!
What is family-style?
For family-style meals, place all the serving dishes out on the table so each family member can help themselves.
What are the benefits to serving family-style?
- Kids can practice their fine motor skills by serving themselves. For instance, scooping, pouring sauces, and passing serving dishes are great skills to work on.
- Provides children the opportunity to choose what foods to eat and how much to eat. While OT Molly recommends using tweezers to develop fine motor skills, I love this very practical way of working on these important skills.
- Gives children a chance for new food exposure in a natural and relaxed way. Even if your children don’t serve themselves the new food, they are watching others enjoy their food. Seeing it, smelling it, and maybe touching it, are all ways to help children become more familiar with the food.
- Makes dinnertime more enjoyable since children often eat better and are more relaxed. Therefore, my girls often ask for “family-style meals” as it is their favorite way to eat dinner.
- Encourages kids to listen to their hunger and fullness cues, allowing children to choose their own portion sizes depending on how hungry they are. If we, as parents, serve our children, it is easy to over serve them, causing them to feel overwhelmed or causing them to overeat, which I must admit I do every time I go out to eat!
- Allows children to see others making healthy choices. When we, as parents, serve ourselves veggies, it provides powerful role-modeling. Even if children don’t serve themselves veggies right away, they are more likely to choose them down the road.
How do you serve family-style?
• Make sure there are one or two foods on the table you know your child will eat.
• Provide a balanced meal including veggies, protein, healthy fat, and a grain or starchy veggie.
• Use one big platter and then put everything on it!
• My favorite option, because it is the least number of dishes, is to put the pots, pans, and sheet pans all on the table (after everything has cooled off, of course).
What if Kids Don’t Take Certain Foods?
• Gently encourage them to try everything by asking them to play the “Rate-it Game” using the Taste-O-Meter. You can download the Taste-O-Meter here.
• Provide a small taster plate (or a napkin) with just a bite of each food. Remember to not force it, just provide the opportunity and exposure. They do not have to eat it.
• It is okay if your child doesn’t try everything. Overtime, with role-modeling and exposure this will hopefully change.
• Be patient. Teaching our kids how to eat healthy is a marathon, not a sprint. Above all, remember small, simple, changes do add up and can make a big impact on our health down the road.
If you give family-style a try, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear your successes and failures too!