“If I do not put the food on my child’s plate he will never eat it” parents often tell me. Are you worried that your child will not even look at the food or attempt to eat it if it is not on their plate? Bear with me as I state that a child will not eat a food because it is on their plate. Some fussy eating children will push the food away, others will get anxious or upset when faced with an “offending” food. No amount of persuasion will convince them to ingest it. In hindsight parents often agree that putting the food on the plate repeatedly fails to deliver the outcome they are after.
If your child is a fussy eater is it time you gave family style of serving a go?
How does it work?
It is all about placing the dish you have prepared on the dinner table, instead of plating away from the table. It involves the children helping themselves and if they are old enough, serving others too. It does not require complicated cooking: you could place a roast chicken and a side of scallop potatoes bought over the counter. For maximal exposure, I would add a salad. However it requires you to think about what food you will serve so you do not end up short order cooking. You can see how these children on the spectrum eat a wide range of food, thanks to this style of serving.
5 benefits of family style serving
Family style serving:
- Provides effective exposure: what I mean by this is that your child will see what the family eats. You can offer from the bowl, the pan or the tray. Children if they are old enough can pass the dish, serve themselves or others. This exposure is very effective, because if children are not ready to explore a food, it does not make it to their plate. Yet they become acquainted with it, as it is regularly offered, as they serve others or pass the dish around.
- Empowers children: as children participate in a shared food experience they are free to eat when they are ready. This empowerment is key to have children venture into tasting a new food. It is based on mutual trust between parent and child: I trust that you will eat this food when you are ready. I trust that you are not going to pressure me to eat this food if I am not ready to do so. It promotes independence as children learn to serve others and serve themselves. Everyone can now relax. Empowered children can have a go at new food.
- Enables children to learn to eat with appetite and satiety. This means that your children can learn to eat at mealtimes, eat sufficiently and in-tune with their needs. Children will learn to take what they need from what is on offer. Left-overs can be served the following day.
- Reinforces family values: it teaches that the family comes together and shares food. One daring sibling cannot devour all the chips if everyone is not served! Children learn to socialise and develop some manners around food.
- Reinforces the family food culture and models it to the children. It is important to identify what your eating culture is and model it to your children: it is the best way to teach what the family eats. Does your family cook world cuisine? Does your family enjoy deserts? Children become confident around the family food culture to the point that they will eventually eat like you.
Serving family style requires a leap of faith, once you have made it a habit you will find that everyone is more relaxed. Children benefit greatly from serving family style and will explore more food. They will surprise you and move the food to their plate. They will disappoint you as they still do not eat it. At this stage stay neutral, offer to cut or mash anything that may be too dense or bulky to eat. The day your child finally eats the new food, you will be happy you persisted with this very responsive style of feeding your children.
Do you struggle with mealtimes? Here you can download my guide to Turn the tide on Stressful Family Dinners.