A few weeks ago, we started letting our son serve himself his own food at dinnertime. Up until that point, I would bring him his pre-plated food and be met with a barrage of complaints ranging from "I don't like that" to "I'm not going to eat that."

But then we switched styles, so he can now scoop whatever food he wants onto his plate. My son loves to make his own decisions, so he really responded to the switch; and we love the dearth of negative comments. There was even an added bonus, when he decided to serve a new food to himself without any pressure from us. (That would be a "parenting win.")

Turns out there is a whole other reason to switch to family-style meals: It teaches children correct portion sizes. The University of Illinois completed a study of two- to five-year-old children in more than 100 child-care centers. The researchers found that the children who eat family-style meals .... That is pretty amazing to me. Here are some other tips the study recommended to help children understand portion control:

  • Use scoops to help little children serve themselves.
  • Ask children "Are you full?" instead of "Are you done?"
  • If a child wants to skip a meal, let the child skip it. (It's frustrating, but children do not starve themselves.)
  • Refrain from saying "Just take two more bites."

I'm not saying that the transition from pre-plated to serve yourself was easy. It hasn't been: Sometimes it is messy and we still have discussions about not wasting food. But, overall, it has made dinner more pleasant. And that is the goal, right?

How about you? Do you eat pre-plated or family-style? Would you consider making the switch? Tell me at Sorry, Mom. I didn't listen.

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