Learn how Mom makes the most of childhood independence with the basics and benefits behind serving family style meals.
I want to preface this post by saying that not every meal in my house is served as family style. Let alone a meal that we all sit down and eat together; a simple family meal. But because I know there are fundamental benefits to eating meals together as a family AND letting my family pick and choose what they want on their plate, I’m trying to do more of both. SO here’s what I’m practicing: 2-3 times a week, we eat dinner together as a family. And those dinner’s when we are eating together, I’m serving those meals as family style meals. Here’s why:
What I Love about Family Style Meals
- Following the principles of Ellyn Satters divison of responsibility, I am providing my family with the what, when, and where we are eating dinner. It’s up to them to CHOOSE which foods they want to eat, and how much of it they want to eat [if any— yup, there’s been many night’s when they haven’t wanted to eat my cooking]. Instead of overestimating what Joey is willing to eat, by allowing him to serve himself I’m letting him follow his hunger cues. I do encourage him to try different foods and may put one or two pieces on his plate if he passes it up… but if a meltdown ensues I will remove it.
- The meal seems less rushed. I get to talk to Joey about the foods on the table [color, texture, taste]. Whether or not he really cares is beyond me, but I’m trying to start the conversation regardless!
- Again, I’m giving my kids [specifically Joey] the choice of what he wants to eat and how much of it he wants to eat. I’m not forcing, bribing or tricking him into eating something. I’m giving him the option as to whether or not he wants to eat something—- the key is to also make sure there’s something on the table I know he will choose. So if all else fails [or doesn’t make the cut for your child’s plate], they’ll get to eat something that’s familiar.
- The obvious: family time. Like I said before, family style meals aren’t every night in our house. But I’m aiming for 2-3 meals a week, depending on work schedules and toddler meltdowns. It gives us time to eat, talk, and spend time together. I can also use it as an opportunity to role model for my children how I eat— lots of veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins. They might not want to eat that way right now, but by modeling it for them my hope is that they will eat that way in the future.
- Kids can practice these important things at the family style meals table: please and thank you, holding a plate and/or platter [balance—not yet for Joey], and it can also be an opportunity for new foods to be “eased” into the mealtime scene. Not placed smack-dab in the middle of your child’s plate!
What I Do Not Love about Family Style Meals
- The dishes. Yep, there’s a lot more cleanup involved. Especially if your child doesn’t like food touching [like mine does with some meals]. Hence the extra serving bowls!
- The stress that comes along knowing my child might not eat anything that’s on the table. I get upset when Joey doesn’t eat and refuses everything I offer him. But I also trust my gut and look at his meal intake as a whole— meaning, how did he eat this week? That day? If he had a great breakfast and lunch, then I don’t stress over dinner. If he’s been refusing food all week then I might chalk that up to a tummy ache or teething. And I won’t lie, there have been plenty of days when he’s eaten yogurt all. day. long. But then there has been other days when he’s eaten an apple at every meal and broccoli and beef stir-fry. Please, someone tell me why toddler eating habits are like this?! The takeaway here is to look at the big picture of mealtime and go from there.
What You Should Know about Family Style Meals
- Sometimes it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Like all things with small children, it’s a work in progress and I really don’t have it all figured out. But because the pros to family style meals clearly outweigh the cons, I’m working towards the goal of continuing them every week when I have the patience and energy for it.
- You need to do what works for your family, and if that meals pre-plating meals then so be it. As long as you are offering you children healthy food options and consistently eating with them, I think that’s more important than having them serve themselves. Seriously.
What to know what sparked this family style meals transformation?! Recently a friend who just so happens to be a registered dietitian and mom stayed the night. She had dinner with my family and witnessed the chaos that ensued. I knew she wouldn’t judge, since she is the mom of small children like mine. Instead, she gave great advice as to what works for her right now in the family mealtime scheme of things. And guess what? It was serving meals family style! So thank you Jessica for your sound advice and listening ear. I don’t know what I’d do without other moms and friends like you!!!