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Nebraska Department of Education
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301 Centennial Mall South
PO Box 94987
Lincoln, NE 68509-9487

(800) 731-2233 (Nebraska Only)
or (402) 471-2488
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Child & Adult Care Food Program

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

The benefits of family style meal service

Family style meal service is an excellent way to provide children with the opportunity to serve themselves. Family style meal service also provides other benefits.

How do children benefit?

  • By practicing fine motor and coordination skills such as pouring, scooping and serving.

  • By learning to regulate portion sizes according to their own feelings of hunger and fullness.

  • By learning to share, take turns and socialize; thereby developing self-confidence and self-esteem because they are in control. Children are allowed to make choices.

  • By having fun in setting the table, preparing food and cleaning up.

Why do caregivers like family style meal service?

It allows them to:

  • Set an example for children by sitting at the same table and eating the same meal.

  • Initiate pleasant conversations with the children.

  • Develop an intimate, sharing, family like atmosphere.

  • Children should not be reprimanded if they do not taste or eat all the food on their plates. Instead, let the children know when the next meal will be served so they can make final decisions about whether to eat more. Also, try to focus on some positive aspect of the children's eating behavior. For example, maybe a child tried the food by using another one of his or her senses rather than by tasting it; this can be acknowledged in a positive way.

  • Food left on plates should be thrown away without comment. Plate waste is a normal part of eating, especially when new foods are served or when children are new to the center or classroom. Plate waste can be reduced by serving meals family style.

Try these tips to help children serve themselves

  • You may want to start out by letting the children, especially younger ones, serve themselves something that is easy to serve. Try rolls or bread first. As the children develop skills, increase the number and types of items they serve themselves.

  • Pass the food around the table and encourage (but do not pressure or force) each child to put some on his or her plate.

  • Allow each child to decide what and how much of the food to eat.

  • Try not to worry that some children will take too little. On the other hand, if some children seem to be taking too much and not leaving enough for the other children, provide guidance.

Allowing children to help themselves does not mean caregivers cannot guide them. Encourage children to take some of all the foods served, but ask them to take only one serving at a time. Make sure the children know that there is enough food for them to have seconds later. This may help them take smaller servings the first time around. You might want to say something like, "If you aren't sure you can eat it, take just a little bit. You can have more if it tastes good to you." It's also alright to let them know that they must leave enough for other children.

Serving size can be controlled by having the children use serving scoops, spoons or ladles that hold reasonable portion sizes. Remember to make sure the serving utensils are child-sized and that the children can handle them. Younger children may need you to actually physically assist or guide them in serving themselves.

Source: Feeding Children Responsively, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

read more:
USDA Instruction on Family Style Meal Service


NUTRITION SERVICES > CACFP > CHILD CARING ONLINE > THE BENEFITS OF FAMILY STYLE MEAL SERVICE