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Family Style Meals Can Help Picky Eaters

Have a picky eater in your family? Having mealtimes with a toddler can be such a struggle some days. We often get asked where to start with helping feed picky eaters. One of the first things we suggest is: to serve Family Style Meals.

How are Family Style Meals different from Traditional Family Meals?

In a traditional meal, parents are plating up each member of the family’s plate FOR them. Then the child is presented with a plate of food for the meal/snack. This can easily lead to issues for a family if you have a child that is hesitant or resistant to try new foods or is suddenly decided they don’t like foods that they used to love. This can cause a child to immediately push back against what was served or make them feel overwhelmed by what is presented on the plate.

We used to serve our dinners pre-plated, and the meals would end with one (or more) people crying or throwing a tantrum (and it wasn’t always the toddler, lol)! Read more about that here. What we found was that pre-plating led to us trying to negotiate what our kids ate from their plate. But this isn’t our job as parents. It’s our kids job to decide what they’re going to eat and how much.

I recently read the book Helping Your Child with Extremely Picky Eating, by Katja Rowell, MD and Jenny McGlothilin, MS, SLP. In the book they stated an interesting finding from families they work with: “Serving meals family style is the number one thing parents say defuses battles at the table.”

If you struggle with your child about food, serving Family Style is worth a try to defuse your battles.

What is a Family Style Meal?

Family style moves all food into the center of the table. Each member of the family is able to serve themselves what they want and how much they want from the food available.

Here’s how serving meals this way can help your picky eater:

Allows feeding roles to be followed: When Family Style Meals are served, children are able to have control over what is put on their plate and therefore more easily live within their feeding role.

Reduces pressure to eat: Family Style Meals naturally leads to less pressure being placed on what the child eats or doesn’t eat. We know from research that the less pressure a child feels around eating, the better feeding outcomes the child will have in the long run.

Gives independence to your child: Young children develop a sense of independence and go through a season where they want to “do it all myself!” as our toddler often screams at us! Letting your child select the food they want AND serve it up on their own plate is an easy way to give them some control that they so desperately desire.

Allows for motor development: Using the serving spoons or tongs is a great way for littles to grow their motor skills! You can offer assistance where needed, but allowing your child to have more control with the dishing up of foods will surprise you at how quickly they get better and more skilled in this area.

They see healthy eating modeled: Kids are always watching us as their parents. When they see us trying new foods and eating a variety of foods, it impacts them. Having all the food options out on the table allows littles to see the food available and watch other people partaking of this food!

Creates opportunities to teach manners: One of our children will eat all the bread items on the table, if we let him. While allowing them to eat “safe” food is valuable, kids also need to learn that there are limits and boundaries. Serving Family Style Meals allows for that as there is only so much bread for the whole family to consume. If Timmy eats 5 servings of bread then the rest of the family won’t get to eat any. Picky eaters can learn to think about other people and make sure there is enough food to go around.

Family Style Meals is a relatively easy and simple change that you can make to help your family eat healthier and more stress-free meals. Want more help to start serving these meals to your family? We offer Family Feeding Coaching to help your family implement Family Style Meals and many other proven strategies to decrease pickiness.

Our program walks you through 6 weeks of resources and content sent straight to your inbox. We offer support and guidance as you make changes and move your family forward towards feeding with freedom and grace. Learn more about our program and join our next 6 week session!

© 2020 The Doctor and The Dietitian. All Rights Reserved

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