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Pre-Plated or Family-Style Meals: How Do You Serve?

Pre-Plated or Family-Style Meals: How Do You Serve?

I hadn’t given much thought to the difference between serving pre-plated versus family-style meals until recently. Frankly, I thought it was a simple family preference based on logistics. For instance, I find it easier to pre-plate my family’s everyday meals to avoid washing extra serving dishes and cleaning up the inevitable mess from the kids serving themselves. On the flip side, I always serve family-style for holidays and special dining occasions because I can’t begin to imagine scooping food for my relatives. Now, I’m rethinking my choice to pre-plate our everyday meals.

Recently, Linda C. Whitehead (Vice President of Education and Development at Bright Horizons) was quoted on about the benefits of family-style dining, at both our child care centers and at home. She says, “Family-style dining allows teachers and children to enjoy a meal together in a calm, respectful atmosphere. Children learn appropriate behaviors, such as turn taking and using words, such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It also boosts self-confidence and independence, teaches children mathematical concepts, such as less, more, half, and full and builds fine motor skills.” The article also speaks to the benefit of developing healthy eating habits by allowing children to recognize hunger and satiety cues.

Family dinner on the dining room table

As I was reading, I recalled just that morning when my daughter (age 7) poured herself the most gigantic bowl of cereal for breakfast. We butted heads over whether she would, in fact, eat the whole thing. She insisted she was hungry, I knew she would probably eat half or less. What I didn’t realize at the time was this was a direct result of my pre-plating her meals. By not letting her serve herself, she simply hadn’t developed the sense of proportion that one acquires through practice.

Benefits & Drawbacks for Serving Family-Style Meals

Little boy eatingThinking more about it, I found even more positives to serving family-style meals. First, we would eliminate the constant requests for “seconds”, which we allow. Instead of getting up multiple times in the middle of a meal, we would have more time for uninterrupted conversations. Over time, I also think we would lessen food waste and even have more left-overs for the next day’s lunch.

On the flip side, I worry about the “vegetable” issue. If given a choice, I know my daughter is not going for the broccoli, carrots, or zucchini. We’d have to add new family dining rules that include vegetable minimums and maximums on noodles or other family favorites. And let me just mention the extra dishes again. I’m already washing dishes or emptying the dishwasher multiple times a day.

Pre-plated or family style meals – how do you serve? What advice or tips do you have for either style?


One comment

  1. Media Mom May 29, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    I had never been deliberate about it, but we do most meals family style — and at least some portion of every meal is family style. If I make something like hamburgers, or meat, chicken, or other similar food that needs to be cut for the kids, I do tend to pre-plate that portion of the meal. But veggies, fruits and other sides are almost always family style in our house. We do require that everyone take some amount of fruit and vegetable, but I find it works pretty well overall. Our kitchen table is right next to the dishwasher, so the extra dishes have never been much of a problem. If we have a problem, it’s generally that the kids serve themselves more veggies than they ultimately eat. I’ll take that problem any day!

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