Family-Style Dining

Help create meal and snack times that are relaxed and happy times for everyone!

You are a role model to show children how to enjoy healthy food and conversation. Help children pay attention to eating. When you serve healthy, appealing foods in a pleasant setting, children will be more likely to enjoy foods and eat what they need.

How do you eat family-style?

To encourage family-style dining, adults can sit and eat with the children. Children who need more help are seated near an adult.  Set out placemats, plates and cups. Offer a variety of foods at the table and ask children to serve themselves giving help when needed. When children bring food from home to child care, the meal can still be enjoyed family-style.

Always serve some foods that are familiar and liked by the children. Present new foods in an enthusiastic manner. For example, model eating broccoli with your fork and show you enjoy eating it. Ask children if they would like “little trees” (broccoli). Allow children to serve themselves small portions. Help those who need help and offer more food if children are still hungry. Let children feed themselves even if they do it slowly and make a mess. Expect children to spill and drop food and respond calmly and patiently.

Children’s role:

Children are responsible for how much and whether to eat the foods put before them. Children can:

  • Serve themselves when they are able. They can start by taking small amounts, knowing they can have more if they like. This gives them control over the amount of food on their plate and how much they eat.
  • Eat until they are no longer hungry and are given the time to do so.
  • Explore food through their senses by looking, feeling, mashing, smelling and tasting.
  • Can refuse to try or taste a food.
  • Learn to help set the table and clean up.

Caregiver’s role:

Caregivers are responsible for what, when and where to feed children. Caregivers can:

  • Help children pay attention to eating.
  • Respect toddlers messiness and slowness with eating.
  • Acknowledge childrens individual food likes and dislikes. This promotes their self- esteem.
  • Let children decide whether and how much they will eat from what is presented to them.  

Other important tips for caregivers:

  • Do not pressure children to taste a new food, eat any number of bites, or clean their plate.
  • Do not praise or scold children for the amount of food they eat.
  • Do not make deals using food. Using food as a bribe, pacifier or punishment sends children the wrong message. Depriving children of food is never acceptable.
  • Respect the children’s family situation by not making comments to them about the food their parents have provided.

Table Talk Topics:

Looking for ideas of what to talk about during meal time? Check out our resource on Table Talk Topics.

Here is another link from Better Together:

Let’s Talk… Mealtime Conversation Cards for Toddlers & Preschoolers



Food Flair Manual, p. 57