Family Style Dining: A Fun and Healthier Way to Enjoy Mealtimes

Children enjoy family style dining during snack time. Children enjoy family style dining during snack time.

By Carly Dunn and Leia Muniz

One way to teach children to be lifelong healthy eaters is family style dining. This is where all menu items are placed in bowls on the table and children are able to serve themselves using child-size spoons, pitchers, and tongs. Family members or teachers sit and eat with children to model proper eating habits, initiate conversations, and help children as they serve themselves.

Five Reasons We Love Family Style Dining

  1. Children learn and practice social skills. This is an excellent opportunity to remind children to say “please,” “thank you,” and “no thank you.”
  2. Children are able to practice their gross and fine motor skills by using spoons to serve themselves.
  3. Research shows that children become less picky and more likely to try new foods.
  4. Meal times are another opportunity to learn; during meals parents or teachers can talk to children about nutrition and healthy eating habits. Parents and teachers can also integrate mathematical and sensory concepts during meals by discussing serving portions, food shapes and colors, and exploring their five senses.
  5. Research shows that children will take the correct portion size for his/her age and are less likely to over eat.

Five Tips For Family Style Dining at Home

  1. Place food in containers small enough for children to pass around the table.
  2. Ask your child to be your helper, and have him or her set the table with the menu items and place settings.
  3. Demonstrate proper self-serving techniques by scooping the first serving onto your own plate. Then encourage your child to scoop food onto his own plate. If you notice your child having any difficulties, help your child by using the “hand over hand” technique. Place your hand over your child’s hand and scoop the portion together.
  4. Continue self-serving until all menu items have been plated, then enjoy your delicious family meal.
  5. You can build your child’s social and language skills by discussing your day, the meal, or whatever topics the family is interested in.

We recently joined Partnership for a Healthier America and made specific commitments that will help fight childhood obesity. One of these commitments is to continue to encourage family style dining in all of our KinderCare, CCLC and Champions child care and early learning centers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends children as young as two years old have the opportunity to self-serve. Have you tried family style dining at home? Share your experiences and tips in the comments!

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