Serve Food family style

Family style serving is when you present all the component parts of a meal in separate serving dishes in the centre of the table (including dessert) and each member of the family decides what they want and how much they're going to eat. 

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How to actually do it

1. Plan your meals in advance so that 4 to 5 of the 5 food groups (from the Eat Well Guide) are present in the meal. Not only does this provide balanced nutrition but it also promotes the feeling of fullness or satisfaction.

2. Ensure that there is at least one or two food items that each member of the family likes, especially if your child is very fussy. And its fine, even if it’s just yoghurt or bread.

3. Present the food in proper portion sizes for your children, so cut up meat into child sided portions, present rice in little mountains, make little salad bowls containing the right amount of veggies presented in a lettuce leaf. This shows the child what 'one of' looks like and helps them learn about portion size.

4. Place all the food in the centre of the table - its fine to use fun coloured plates or bowls or your favourite crockery!

5. Allow your child to serve themselves to the portion they would like, younger children will need help and it could be messy. 

6. Encourage them to try everything on offer but don't put pressure on them. Teach your child how to refuse food with a 'no thank you' and respect his decision. He doesn't have to eat everything on offer.

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Well thats all great but what if...?

My child doesn't like what I've provided

What you've planned is whats on offer, there are no back up plans, no rescue meals and no alternatives. If you've done step 1 and 2 well, you know that your child wont go hungry. Kids who regularly eat 'rescue meals' never shift out of the fussy eating stage and often develop nutritional deficiencies from eating the same foods over and over. Your child needs to understand the consequences of not eating and learn when its the right time to eat again.

My child is too young to serve themselves

Hold the platter and offer them the spoon, or if you have a tiny toddler spoon the food onto their plate for them - but - encourage them to indicate when you've spooned on enough. They will get it wrong initially but they will learn whats right for their appetite over time.

My child will only eat the fruit

So be it. Let they child decide which foods and how much and let him learn the consequences of that. He's not going to starve, as long as your following your meal and snack time routine (see post) he will know when the next meal or snack time will be and will likely do better then. Don't make comments about what your child chooses or how much they've chosen, this involves feelings of 'doing it wrong' and puts too much pressure on the mealtimes, switching appetite off. 

My child loves carbs and will take all the potatoes and not leave enough for everyone else

Well this goes back to point 3 about presenting the food in proper portion sizes.  If your child is a little overweight and has been on a restrictive diet, they will get over focused on whats available and want to load up their plates. Remind them that there is enough to go around and that they can have seconds after everyone else has had their share.

My child doesn't know how to make a balanced meal.

Thats true, kids will gravitate towards the food they like (often sweet stuff) which its why its so important for you to be in charge of what the meal is and planning it well. Talk to them about the Eat Well Guide outside of mealtimes so that they understand what a balanced meal looks like and how to achieve it. We have one on lour fridge.

Why serve family style?

We know that this helps children learn about mindful eating as they choose how much to put on their plates, what to eat and in which order. Under 5’s are great at self regulating food and will tend to eat what their bodies need. Over 5’s lose this and tend to gravitate towards what they ‘like’ to eat'.  Every meal is a reminder about what a balanced plate should look like.

It also teaches children that they are in charge of they own bodies and that you respect that. Plating up food for them, tells them what and how much you want them to eat, as you’ve decided already.

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA - Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA - Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist