Family-Style Dining Has More to Offer than Healthy Food

Even lunchtime is learning time at Kiddie Academy. That’s why family-style dining an important part of our Life Essentials® curriculum.

“Family-style dining is part of our program because we believe children should be encouraged and allowed to make their own healthy food choices,” said Richard Peterson, Kiddie Academy’s Vice President of Education. “It starts in our toddler classrooms. Children sit together with teachers and share a meal, serve themselves from shared serving bowls, and engage in conversation with teachers and other children.

There are so many good things that can be gained from the family-style dining experience. According to Peterson, “If passing the bowls, serving themselves and using spoons and forks also helps improve fine motor skills. It provides ample opportunity for teaching and practicing table manners. Children practice skills such as passing food to the right, waiting patiently for food, waiting for everyone to be served, using quiet voices while talking at the table and taking turns during conversations. Teachers also take advantage of every opportunity to incorporate content learning into family-style dining, by encouraging children to count, to identify colors and numbers and to practice other useful skills while enjoying a healthy meal.”

Family-style dining is also a best practice recommended by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the nation’s premier accrediting organization.

Here are some of the characteristics of family-style dining at Kiddie Academy:

  • We use child-sized tables, chairs and utensils.
  • Children help set the table.
  • Children pass around bowls of food and serve themselves.
  • Children serve their own beverages from pitchers.
  • Teachers eat with the children and model good table behavior.
  • Children participate in conversations, which are light, encouraging and contribute to learning.
  • Children help clean up.

About the last point – cleaning up. We realize that when little hands pass bowls of food and pour their own drinks, messes will happen. That’s OK. By including the children in the cleanup, it becomes a valuable lesson about responsibility.

Here are some additional resources about the benefits of family-style dining:

Tips for Family-Style Dining” – Healthy Kids, Healthy Future

Family Style Meals: A New Way to Teach Healthy Eating Habits” – United States Department of Agriculture

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