The beauty of serving a family style meal is that it allows everyone to put whatever they want and as much as they want on their plate. For kids, it's a double fun because they get to have some control in the process.
And yes, as hard as it is for us, parents, to entrust our little ones with their food choices, it is imperative that we do so if we want to raise happy and adventurous eaters.
What is a family style meal? A family style meal is when instead of plating individual plates, you give yourself a break and just plop the entire pot or a pan right on the table and let everyone plate their own. You put a spoon in and let every member of the family serve themselves. It is kind of like a taco bar where everyone makes their own taco.
If you are trying to build healthy boundaries with your kids around eating and teach them to enjoy the process, then giving them such control can work magic. As long as you don't interfere.
Here are some ideas for a family style meal:
You can serve a salad in a bowl, chopped into bite size pieces with dressing on a side. Kids may pick some veggies like tomatoes or cucumbers with a little dressing served as a dip, or they can take some chopped lettuce and eat it with their hands if they wish.
Rice, quinoa, farro, millet, couscous, barley, buckwheat, teff - try different varieties. Grains can be dull if they are prepared incorrectly. So spend five minutes to read through these two articles from Bon Appetit - they are packed with tips on how to get these grains taste good. And we know food must taste good if we want our kids to eat it.
How To Cook Farro (and Literally, Every Other Grain) Perfectly, Every Time (explains why you don't have to mess with water-to-grain measurements, which is brilliant because I can never remember them!)
Polenta - sold pre-made and preferably organic since conventionally grown corn is genetically modified. Heat it up and add a favorite sauce to it.
Mashed veggies - potatoes, cauliflower, winter root veggies like rutabaga or turnip. I throw in a carrot or two for some color and variety. Add butter or ghee, milk or sour cream or whatever plant based version of these you prefer.
Baked sweet potato or sweet potato fries. My go-to sweet potato fries recipe is this: Crispy Baked Sweet Potato Fries + Mayo by Meghan Telpner.
Roasted veggies - throw anything you want on the tray but first mix it up with some olive oil and salt. This recipe from Terry Walter's book, Clean Food is absolutely delicious and has the potential to convert the Brussels sprouts haters: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fennel and Shiitake Mushrooms.
Meat/Poultry/Fish - think easy to make and easy to eat. I cook with a lot of ground meat, good quality sausage, breaded chicken, drum sticks (dark meat is more moist and soft), salmon and just about any other fish that's fresh. Here are my go-to dishes:
Homemade Chicken Fingers by me! If you don't want to mess with cutting up your chicken in strips, then don't! You can dredge the entire breast or half of it through the crumbs and get the same result.
Baked Salmon with Garlic and Dijon by Natasha's Kitchen. I like this recipe because it gives you an opportunity to introduce your kids to flavors or garlic and Dijon on top of the salmon. But if you don't have garlic or Dijon on hand, you can just brush it with an olive oil and salt mixture. You don't have to stand on your head to make salmon delicious.
Oh, desserts. Let's just say, if your child has an extremely sweet tooth, you might want to serve a single-serving of dessert along with the rest of the meal. They will most likely put it on their plate and eat it first, and that's ok. Just go with it and stay calm, cool and collected. Over time, your kiddo will see the dessert is not going anywhere and he will start learning to control himself.
In our home, I usually serve fruit or berries with dinner. If there is a leftover pie or cake and my daughter has been talking my ear off about it all day, then I'll put three slices on the table along with the rest of the dinner. She can have one slice and eat it whenever she wants. But if you are unsure what to do with your sweet-toothed child, I write more about this in another post.
Family style dinners are a great way to get your kids involved in the process of eating and help them to enjoy it more. And as a bonus, you'll have leftovers you can mix and match the next day. Not a bad idea when you are scrambling to put together some lunch!