Eating dinner as a family is a modern trend I am very happy to follow and recommend to others. So many of you juggle busy schedules to spend quality time with the kids and partners and model good eating habits.
But the reality is that churning out meals every day is hard work. And listening to kids complaining is the last thing you want as you finally sit down to enjoy your meal.
A very simple but effective way to immediately bring down the stress levels at mealtimes is serving meals family-style, with all the food in the middle of the table and an empty plate in front of every family member.
Although it may sound like a novel approach, family-style is actually a common way to serve meals in many traditional cultures, from Indian to Mexican.
In this post, I will share everything you need to know to start serving your meals family-style, even if you’ve never done it before.
Note: Kids under 2 will need help serving food on their plates so feel free to bring the bowls to them to show what is on offer. Or even just carry your little ones around the table at the beginning of the meal so they can see it for themselves.
The do’s of family meals with picky eaters:
- Serve all the food in the middle of the table.
- Include one protein, 1-2 starch options, vegetable/fruit and as many simple adds-on as you like. I often add nuts, bread, fruit, crackers, dips, veggie crudités and other simple no-cook sides, especially if I know that the kids are not so crazy about the main dish.
- Make sure to incorporate 1-2 things that your child likes. On some days it can be the hot main dish. On others, a couple of simpler sides like rice, bread or fruit.
- Give everyone a plate, a glass of water, a napkin and utensils.
- Serving dishes are optional, I use the same pots, pans and roasting tins to serve the food. I also like using a chopping board where I serve toppings for soups, salad ingredients, or chopped fruit and cheese. Saves so much washing up!
- Get child-friendly serving utensils. I use very simple tongs and serving spoons I got from a restaurant supply store but you can get much cuter stuff from any department store.
- At the beginning of the meal, explain what’s on the table. Be matter-of-fact and use simple language. Example: “This is the sweet potato. It is orange like carrot and tastes a little sweet. I mashed it with some butter.”
The don’ts of family meals with picky eaters:
- Don’t invest too much time into cooking. Keep it quick and try simpler dishes, especially as you are just transitioning to this new style.
- Avoid getting up and down during the meal. Try to get everything you and others may need before the beginning of the meal and make sure to sit down and enjoy your food.
- Don’t pressure kids to eat or try anything. Allow them to listen to their bodies and learn manners.
- Don’t short-order cook. If you already included a safe dish and you hear a request for something else, promise to include it in a meal or snack sometime soon.
Family meal ideas and recipes to try:
Other helpful articles:
Is your picky eater malnourished?
How to read child growth charts
Does my child need a supplement?
3 valid reasons for screens at mealtimes