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How children can build skills while being served

Child eating at table
Child eating at table

A national organization is recommending that caregivers and teachers at daycare centers and early education centers serve meals to children “family style.” The health and safety recommendations and guidelines were recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP published Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards; Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs, 3rd Edition.

In the publication, the AAP stated that caregivers/teachers and children should sit at the table and eat the meal or snack together. The AAP stated that children at daycare centers be given family style meal service with the serving platters, bowls, and pitchers on the table, so that everyone present can serve themselves. The service is encouraged for all children except for infants and very young children who require an adult to feed them.

Nutrition experts state that “adults should encourage, but not force, the children to help themselves to all food components offered at the meal.” The adult(s) should also encourage social interaction and conversation, using vocabulary related to the concepts of color, shape, size, quantity, number, temperature of food, and events of the day.

Benefits of the “family style” meal service are that it builds social, emotional, and gross and fine motor skill development in children. When an adult caregiver/teacher sits at the table and engage children in social interactions with each other they provide positive role-modeling.

According to research conversation at the table provides opportunities for children to learn informal modeling of appropriate eating behaviors, communication about eating, and imparting nutrition learning experiences. In turn the presence of an adult or adults, who eat with the children, helps prevent negative behaviors such as feeding each other, stuffing food into the mouth, potential choking, and the possibility of fighting.

At home, family meals provide a daily time for the whole family to be together. For younger children, having routine family meals can provide a sense of security and a feeling of belonging in the family. Before a child heads home, the taste of a “family style” meal can be felt right in the daycare.