Why You Should Serve ‘Family Style’ Meals and How to Get Started

Sarah Derry
Nourished Village Nutrition
Family style meals give kids a sense of control.

One of the best strategies to combat picky eating is to serve meals “family style.” It gives kids a sense of control and allows them to explore foods on their own terms.

My girls love family style meals, whether it’s a picnic on the living room floor or eating at the table or counter. They love having the foods at their reach, have fun serving themselves, and even try new foods!

Here are some tips for getting started with family style meals:

1. Include a variety of foods. Offer different food groups, colors, textures, dips, spreads, etc. Colors are fun and entice children to eat. Dips and spreads can be fun to serve and eat.

2. Have a “show-and-tell” at the beginning of the meal. Let your kids tell you about the foods they know, then you can describe any new foods (for example, “these are roasted peppers – they’re red, yellow, and green just like a traffic light! They’re a little bit sweet and crunchy.”)

3. Include at least 1-2 things your child likes. This goes for any meal. A meal full of all new foods is scary and may cause your child to shut down and be fearful of eating.

4. Let them dig in. Serve the food in the middle with child-friendly serving utensils so everyone can reach. Tongs and large serving spoons work best for little hands. Young children may need help, but I encourage you to let them try to serve themselves, even if it’s messy!

5. Allow your child to have full control over if and how much they eat. By giving your child independence you help avoid mealtime meltdowns and boost their confidence.

6. Don’t worry about making it look “Pinterest-worthy.” No need to arrange things fancy or have coordinating serving bowls. Let’s be real, who really wants to do more dishes? Use cutting boards, bowls, or pans you already used during meal-prep for serving. (Just be careful of any hot ones).

Do you have family style meals? If not, try starting with just one meal a week and let your little ones serve themselves and work up from there.

Sarah Derry, Registered Dietitian, is a child and family nutrition expert who helps families conquer mealtimes and raise happy, adventurous eaters. She offers virtual coaching at Nourished Village Nutrition. For more tips, follow her on Instagram @nourishing.picky.eaters