My #1 Defense Mechanism to Combat Picky Eating: Serving Family-Style Meals
It wasn’t until I started preparing meals for my toddler that I had an epiphany: I can master the art of dinner time negotiations by serving meals “family-style.” What an “ah ha” moment! Initially, when I had a young baby, I would plate his food for him. This made sense at the time and worked for us, but, as he entered toddlerhood I needed to help him assert his own independence to select which foods he wanted on his plate. The result? Meal times became even more relaxed and enjoyable (while still nutritious), and I could diffuse dinner-time drama all while supporting his emerging autonomy. Now that’s the real deal, and that feels really good.
Let’s break down family-style meals so that you can give it a test drive:
What does it mean to serve meals “family-style?”
Simply put, the idea behind family-style meals is that you present all of the components that make up your meal on the dinner table. This means, your starch, veggies, protein, beverage - and possibly a dessert - are displayed for your child to choose from. (In other words, all foods you are comfortable with serving your child).
Next, you’re not pre-plating your child’s meal. Your child chooses what goes on his/her plate, and you are the assistant helping plate the food as your child picks.
How does this help with tackling picky eating? Because you’re essentially removing all the pressure and inviting your child to decide what they want on their plate. Or, if they want anything at all. So, no negotiating.
My top five reasons for serving meals family-style:
You’re more likely to offer an acceptable safe food. At almost every meal opportunity, you want to offer up a “safe” food – this is usually the starch component of the meal. This means if your child isn’t interested in anything else you’ve presented, they will likely be comfortable with the starch food so you can rest assure they are getting in some nutrition. It’s also your job to try and select something that will offer your child some fibre—this keeps them full and helps their gut function optimally. Here are examples of safe foods that may work for your family:
Catelli Smart Pasta – I love that this pasta is fortified with additional fibre, just in case your little one doesn’t reach for the veggies!
Roti or naan bread – coming from a South Asian family, we enjoyed this almost daily.
Potatoes or sweet potato - c’mon you can’t mess with the potato!
Whole-wheat dinner rolls – always so easy, just lather with butter/margarine and serve them up in a fun bowl.
You teach your child manners: The time you spend around a dinner table has the power to instill life-long values and skills into your children. Meal time is an opportunity for purposeful engagement and speech development, and it’s an opportune time to teach your child how to politely decline food, request additional portions, use words such as “please” and “thank you.”
You help your child develop and fine-tune their motor skills: It may sound silly, but it’s important for our little ones to master the art of pouring, scooping, balancing, and passing! You might be tempted to take the lead to avoid messes and spills, but do your best to put that aside during meal times.
It helps your child assert independence: I’ve always been a huge proponent of the Division of Responsibility. This is where the care provider chooses what foods will be served, when they will be offered, and where (preferably around the dinner table). The theory also identifies the child’s role, which is ultimately to decide if they are going to eat and how much they are going to eat. By serving meals family-style you naturally lean into this beautiful philosophy and your child can eat intuitively to set your child up to be an intuitive eater for life.
It allows you to model healthy eating for your child: When your child sees you – the most important person in their life – make healthy eating decisions, like enjoying a variety of foods, it encourages your child to follow suit. It’s no secret that what you eat sets an important example for what your children will eat. If they see you selecting leafy greens from a salad bowl, they will be much more likely to choose leafy greens themselves over time.
This post was written in partnership with Catelli. As always, all opinions are my own!
And, if you were eyeing that recipe in the photo above, that’s my Creamy Chicken and Chorizo Pasta. I know you’ll love it.