Have you ever felt like a short order cook? Do you long to cook just.one.meal for everyone at the table?
Between busy schedules,
picky opinionated eaters, and the inevitable food related melt down, sitting down to a single meal together can often be an incredible challenge for families, especially at the end of a long day. But a quick google search will tell you that eating together is a great way to connect with your family. So how do you do it you ask? Susanne to the rescue! Suzanne cooks up homemade dishes for the lucky kids at Mary Johnson Children’s Center each day and they sit down together and (shocker) eat! She’s here today to let us in on a few secrets about Family Style Meals. The trick she says is all in the presentation – think lots of little bowls and forget about plating up everyone’s food, give that job to your kids! Read on for more great details and reasons to try family style meals……
MB: Tell us, what are Family Style Meals?
Susanne: Here at Mary Johnson Children’s Center our meals are all served family style. This means four or five children sit together at a table with their teacher or a college age work-study student. Food is set out in separate bowls or platters for each meal component and children are able to serve themselves using tongs or other serving utensils. Children are then able to make their own choices about what and how much food they take.
MB: What do you love about Family Style Meals?
Susanne: They encourage healthy food choices and communication! Four or five different items are on the table with a variety of fruits and/or veggies, whole grains and protein. Allowing children to serve themselves from common dishes encourages fine motor skills and allows them to control the quantity of their meal. Plus, we practice saying things like, “Please pass the cucumbers.” “Thank you.”
MB: Obviously, family style meals mean the family is all present at the table. Do you feel it’s beneficial for adults and children to actually eat together (vs. the adults eating a later separate meal)?
Susanne: Yes! Sitting together encourages trying new foods (and more communication). Children like to mimic adults, so watching mum and dad eat and enjoy their food is certainly beneficial. Some ways to encourage trying news foods are through describing the food. So, you might say, “This is kiwi fruit. It’s sweet like a strawberry!” or “Do you like that? Which one is your favorite?” and “We can try these again another time. Next time would you like them raw instead of cooked?”
MB: You mentioned placing all the meal components out at once. Tell us more about this.
Susanne: Serving all foods at the same time rather than withholding milk, fruit, for example, until they have eaten other foods means children will choose what they are ready to eat and encourages self-regulation. Children’s appetites and food needs vary; and over the course of a week or more they will choose the foods that help them grow, especially when nutritious items are the basis of the meal. Assuring children that seconds will be available if they are still hungry and have finished their first portions helps them make healthier food choices. And when a child has helped themselves to a third helping of the same food we can encourage the child to notice their hunger cues with language such as: “Is your stomach telling you that you are full?” or “ Is your tummy still grumbly?” And acknowledging your own fullness by saying. “I’m feeling full!”
MB: Awesome, thank you for sharing your ideas with us!
How does your family eat? What issues do you face?