Family-style dining is most common in the home, child care settings, and restaurants. So, what is family-style dining? Some common practices in family-style dining include:
- Shared responsibilities (i.e. cooking, setting the table, clearing plates after meal, etc.)
- Everyone sitting together at the table to enjoy a meal
- Serving dishes being passed to one another to individually scoop food onto a plate
- Everyone serving themselves, when possible
- Everyone enjoying the same food
- Sharing pleasant and engaging conversation
Children benefit from family-style meals. It helps with the development of gross and fine motor skills, language, social skills, and cognitive skills. Additionally, they learn healthy eating habits from watching their caretakers and peers eat the same foods. Sarah Boese, Sanford CHILD Services Food Program Educator, speaks highly of family-style dining. "My favorite part about family style dining is that children of all ages are able to participate and learn from the experience. Smaller children may need some meal components plated for them, but they are still able to learn from the older children's modeled behavior."
Whether you are looking to reduce the spread of germs or wanting to follow precautions due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, there are things you can do to implement family-style dining in your environment. Here are some tips:
- Take it one step at a time. Family-style dining looks different from place to place. Explore what works best in your setting. Start with incorporating one practice, like everyone safely sitting together at the table to enjoy a meal. Then, gradually add another practice after a few meals. In the end, aim to have most of the practices listed above safely incorporated into your mealtimes.
- Follow public health guidance. As public health organizations release guidance for gatherings during the pandemic, see if there are recommendations that you can implement in your setting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends to use disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils, enjoy meals outdoors when able, and maintain physical distancing (at least 6 feet) as much as possible.
- Enhance the practices that are safe and possible. During the current times, some family-style dining practices might be nearly impossible to implement. For example, passing around a serving dish might not be the safest option in many situations. When some practices are not possible, see how you can enhance the other practices that are safe and feasible. Prepare conversation starters to ensure an engaging conversation with all. Try solving a riddle at each mealtime, ask everyone to share the highlight of their day, or talk about the health benefits of the food on their plate.
- Practice at home what can't be done at child care. In the child care setting, passing around serving dishes and everyone serving themselves are not recommended right now. When practices are not feasible in child care, work on the skills at home. Allow children to dish up their own plate using kid-friendly utensils. Involve children while passing the food around the table.
"Getting children involved is such a good way to teach them about nutrition. Allowing children to help shop at the grocery store and help prepare meals gives them life skills that teach the importance of balanced and healthy meals. Teaching young children how to make healthy choices is a key building block to ensure they have a healthy lifestyle in the future." – Sarah Boese