Eating together, sharing conversation and laughter is something that adults often do with friends, coworkers and significant others. However, with the world becoming busier and schedules becoming more hectic every day, it is often challenging to find the time to sit down together and have a meal as a family. Think about the times that you’ve had the opportunity to sit down as a family with your children and talk about everyone’s day. Isn’t it nice to discover what your child learned that day or hear what they are excited for in the coming days?
Often times people hear about children serving themselves at mealtime and they think “Oh what a mess that would be.” Much of the time people will say that it is just so much easier to put food on a plate for the children and set it in front of them on the table.
Think of it this way, Johnny is a 3-year-old boy. He sits down at the table for mealtime only to find that his child care provider or parent has served him a heaping pile of lima beans. Johnny hates the taste of lima beans and feels overwhelmed by the number of lima beans on his plate. Therefore, Johnny cannot focus on the other items that he does enjoy.
Most people would agree that they would rather have the option on how much of a food they take at the table. This is often the case for children too. Allowing children the independence to decide how much of each food to take often encourages them to try more new foods. If they know that they can only take a small amount to try, they are less likely to feel overwhelmed by having a new food on their plate.
It will be so messy though, right? Yes, family-style meals can be messy, but learning is messy sometimes! Spills happen and teaching children how to clean up a spill helps them to develop a valuable life skill. We’ve all heard the phrase “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” Messes can be cleaned up and children will learn from them. One suggestion is to start by having children serve themselves an “easier” food such as a piece of garlic bread. You can work your way up to serving things like applesauce and pasta. Each step toward independence is valuable to children in your care.
Of course, we want to make sure that we are following proper food safety procedures. Always make sure to keep the food at the proper temperature. Use clean utensils and serving dishes. Also, make sure that all adults and children are washing their hands before and after mealtime.
Here are some key steps for successfully implementing family-style meals within your child care program or home.
If you are considering implementing family-style meals in your childcare program or at home but you are uncertain where to start, please reach out to us at Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral. Our team of Child Care Consultants would love to help you! You can connect with us here.
Iowa State University Extension & Outreach also has a great resource to share with families in your program: Say 'YES' to Family Meals!
Enjoying a meal together strengthens bonds, creates a routine that helps children feel more secure, promotes teachable moments, develops motor skills and supports social-emotional development. Start planning how to serve family-style meals in your program today!