Why Eating Family Style Meals is Important for Children

Young children are at the age where they are learning how to assert their independence. They want to make decisions for themselves, and rely less on adults. Serving family style meals is a great way to let children do things for themselves. A lot of families today are eating dinner in separate rooms, or at different times. Read why it’s important to eat together with your children at meal times.

At my daycare, we are required to eat at the table with the kids in our care. At lunch time, we sit down and let the kids serve themselves. We pass around bowls of food and let the kids take what they want. They can even pour their drink from a small pitcher. The older the kids are, the more freedom they have as far as serving themselves. Toddlers, on the other hand, need more assistance than the older children. Letting kids serve themselves teaches them that they can do things for themselves. When you are constantly serving foods to your children, they are not learning anything, except how to be lazy and let other people do things for them.

Let your children take part in meal preparation. For example, let your child toss the salad or put dinner rolls into a basket. What you allow them to do really depends on their age. I wouldn’t recommend giving knives to any child, and I wouldn’t recommend letting kids handle hot foods or raw meat either. Give them simple tasks to perform. When it comes time to eat, let them help set the table. After dinner is finished, let them help clean up

Family style meals also help children develop several different skills. Motor skills can be developed from picking up serving bowls and utensils, and serving food. Social skills, language skills and manners are developed through conversation at the dinner table. Make sure you set a good example for your kids by saying “please” and “thank you”. Whatever your kids hear you say, they will most likely repeat. Model good eating behavior. Wash your hands before you eat, chew with your mouth closed, use a napkin to wipe your mouth, and never talk with your mouth full of food! Also, you can also help kids develop language skills by talking about the food on the table. Even toddlers can learn simple food words like apple, meat, noodles, beans, milk and more.

One thing I love about eating family style meals with my toddlers at daycare is the fact that I can get my picky eaters to actually try foods! With a normal class of 5 kids, if one child is picky and doesn’t want to eat their green beans, I normally will say “Look, Ava is eating her green beans”. Once the picky eater sees their friend eating the green beans, the child may want to try them as well. This doesn’t always work, but it’s a good idea to try that has worked for me.

If you aren’t already eating family style meals, you could introduce this concept to your children by setting up a table with play food and plates. Let them use their imagination and see what comes of it. Start small. It takes time to develop family style service, but be persistent. Begin with family style snacks and work your way up to a full dinner. With time, your children will learn manners and how to be independent. This foundation in the early years will lead to a lifetime of good habits.