How Family-Style Meals Inspire Healthy Eating

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine
By Lauren Sharifi, RD LDN

Serving up family-style meals is a growing trend. Not only does it cut back on food waste, but it also can help promote positive eating habits among kids.

Growing up, my mother always served dinner family-style. This meant not only were we all sitting at the table enjoying a meal together, but we were also serving our own food from dishes on the table. Little did I know at the time that this was helping me develop healthy eating behaviors and habits that I have been able to take with me into adulthood and now share with my family.

This method of serving food is becoming more common at day care centers, schools, and even restaurants. I don’t know about you, but I like having some control in what and how much I serve myself, and find I tend to overeat if I am served larger portions. The same goes for kids: They want some independence in their food choice. This independence can go a long way in getting them to try new foods and eat a larger variety of foods.

Why is family-style helpful in inspiring healthy eaters?

1. It allows kids to listen to their hunger and satiety cues. Believe it or not, kids will only take as much as they need. We as parents may think we know how much they will eat, but if we serve too much it may end up backfiring and pushing them to overeat. It could also overwhelm them and cause them to undereat.

2. It models healthy behaviors and eating choices as parents and encourages our kids to do the same. Even having an older sibling make a healthy eating choice can inspire younger kids to join along.

3. It allows kids to build motor skills, such as scooping, lifting, and pouring. It also helps children practice table manners by having them wait their turn to take food.

So, if there is one new thing you can implement with your family this new year: Serve up dinner family-style. This can then extend to other meals during the day, as well.

Here are some great meals to start with:

* Build your own taco or burrito night. Place the filling and other toppings in individual dishes next to the tortillas on the table. Let everyone build his or her own taco or burrito.

* Pasta dishes. Place pasta in one dish and the sauce and vegetable in separate dishes. Let everyone serve up as much of each. And remember, it’s OK if they only take the pasta!

Lauren Sharifi is a registered dietitian nutritionist and food blogger at Lauren works in private practice in Brighton at ASF-Peak Health. She specializes in wellness and family/pediatric nutrition, and works with individuals and families to make healthy eating easy, enjoyable and sustainable.