Have any kiddos who are picky, nervous or hesitant eaters? So do we! And just like you, we are trying to encourage healthy intake. A way to do that is with serving family style meals. In this feeding approach all the food is out on the table and children are allowed to serve themselves whatever they would like to eat. This relates to a feeding style called the Division of Responsibility, where parents and children are given roles in the food department with better outcomes of increased healthy eating. We were hesitant at first. What happens if all my kid wants to eat is the bread? What if they never try a vegetable? We had all those same concerns. However, research tells us that allowing children the autonomy of selecting their own foods results in better health in the long run. As parents, we do all we can to make the best decisions for our children, and eating is no different. We pre-portion the food that goes on their plate and encourage them to try that broccoli, finish their chicken, or take two more bites of rice. We assume that we know how much food they should be consuming, without giving much regard to any internal cues that our children were born with.
“Evidence indicates that imposition of stringent parental controls can potentiate preferences for high-fat, energy-dense foods, limit children’s acceptance of a variety of foods, and disrupt children’s regulation of energy intake by altering children’s responsiveness to internal cues of hunger and satiety. This can occur when well-intentioned but concerned parents assume that children need help in determining what, when, and how much to eat and when parents impose child-feeding practices that provide children with few opportunities for self-control.” (Birch and Fisher, Pediatrics, March 1998).
We can learn a lot from these research studies to help create better eating environments and healthier children in the long-run. From the few short weeks we have implemented the family meal style of dinner we have seen increased JOY during dinnertime, ownership over what is on their plate, less fighting or convincing children to eat their food, and we have been pleasantly surprised with the food that they are choosing to put on their plate!
Now, our mealtimes are not completely perfect and we do still, at times, wish that they would eat more food or more of the variety of foods provided. However, trusting the years of research before us may be the best thing we can do for our family’s eating habits.