Pass the Broccoli, Please: Family Style Dining in School

As parents, educators and caregivers, we greatly impact what and how our children eat, from choosing to serve specific foods to overseeing portion sizes and encouraging children to explore new flavors. As role models, we can teach our kids to feed themselves in a healthy way. A surprisingly easy way to practice this skill at home or in school is by instilling an old approach to mealtime - family style dining.

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During a family style meal, children and adults sit together at the table. Children are encouraged to serve themselves from communal bowls rather than receiving individual containers with compartmentalized foods.

The benefits of family style dining in school are vast. When children eat the same food as their peers, they are more likely to try new items and show excitement about the meal in front of them.

As we have seen through the meals we serve, family style eating encourages children to engage first hand with food and make choices independently. For young children, helping to set the table, gripping forks and scooping out of bowls is a great way to practice refining their motor skills. Additionally, by serving themselves versus being told to eat everything on their plate, children better understand when they are hungry or full. This has the added benefit of teaching children about portion size and managing their own hunger or satiety in the future.

We know that family style dining may not work for all spaces and sites, but there are still ways your daycare or school can practice and reap the benefits of this model. Whether you set up a taco assembly station in your classroom, pass around homemade salad dressing so kids can dress their greens, or serve a snack of fruit from a communal bowl, your children will gain confidence in serving themselves while learning meal time etiquette . Here at Red Rabbit, there is nothing more rewarding than hearing children ask their lunch buddies to please pass the carrots, and by implementing the below ideas you too can listen to these beautiful words.

Tips For Bringing Family Style Dining To Your Program

  • Practice scooping and serving outside of mealtime, so children will feel excited about trying out their new skills

  • Use child friendly utensils that make it easier for small hands to participate in meal time

  • Ask children if they are full or hungry to teach them about the right portion sizes for their bodies

  • Encourage teachers to sit with children during meal time and eat the same foods as the kids

  • Use serving platters or bowls like the children would have at home to create a family time experience at school
  • Encourage children to taste food together and share what they like about their meal to encourage positive role modeling
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