Picture of a family including parents and one child enjoying sharing a meal and passing share plates between themselves

April 14 2021 Taco Tuesday – try family-style meals to encourage healthy eating

This blog was written by Lauren Resnik. Lauren is a mother of three, has a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition, and is passionate about helping families eat well. She has made over 30 000 meals for her children (excluding snacks) so far!!

We all want our children to grow up to be healthy eaters who eat and enjoy a variety of healthy foods. Serving a Taco Tuesday or family-style meal may help you do just that.

Picture the scene. Tuesday night – Taco Tuesday if you will. Several bowls of vibrant colours and delicious foods cover the kitchen table: a plate of soft tortilla wraps, bowls of steamed rice, four-bean burrito mix, grated cheese and a range of chopped vegetables – carrots, lettuce, cucumber, capsicum, corn and avocado. The family seated around the table, everyone choosing what they would like to eat, helping themselves, laughing and chatting about their day and enjoying their meal.

So, what is so special about Taco Tuesday? And how does it help your children enjoy a variety of healthy foods?

What are family-style meals?

The Taco Tuesday meal is an example of a family-style meal. During family-style meals, the various food options are placed in the centre of the table, the bowls of food are passed around, and everyone serves themselves. Family-style meals are the opposite of plated meals – where the parent serves up the food for everyone.

While family-style meals offer a range of foods, it is up to everyone to choose what and how much they would like to eat.

How do family-style meals encourage healthy eating?

The experience children have at mealtimes influences what they eat and how they feel about food. When parents provide a structured yet supportive feeding environment, children can learn to eat and enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods at their own pace.

Here are seven ways in which family-style meals can help to encourage healthy eating:

1. It gives children a sense of control and ownership of their meal

Children like to be independent and be in control. By allowing children to select their foods from the available options, serve themselves and create their dishes, you provide them with a sense of control. This helps them take ownership of their meal, and they are more likely to eat and enjoy their food.

Involving children in the kitchen is another excellent way to create food ownership and encourage children to try food. If your child helped grate the carrots or wash the lettuce, they are more likely to choose to eat them.

2. Avoids battles at mealtime

Battles at mealtime often occur when children feel controlled or pressured to eat their food. The Division of Responsibility in feeding children states that while it is the parent’s role to provide a range of food options, it is the child’s role to decide what and how much they want to eat.

Try to ensure that you have at least one or two healthy food options on offer that you know your child generally likes. If they only choose rice, cheese, carrots and cucumber– that is fine. If they also want avocado, cucumber and burrito-bean mix – that is fine too.

Try to avoid pressuring, coercing or forcing your child to eat anything. Resist the urge to say “just try this” or “have one bite of your capsicum.” Pressuring children to eat could result in unhealthy relationships with food.

3. Allows children to eat according to their appetite

Family-style meals allow children to eat according to their appetite. Children are the best judges of how hungry they are at that moment. You need to trust that your child can learn to eat according to how hungry or full they are.

4. Increases their exposure to new foods

Exposing children to a wide variety of tastes and textures helps them become eaters who enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods. The more exposure a child has to a food, the more familiar they become with it, and the more likely they are to eat it.

While many children fear trying new foods, family-style meals expose children to new foods in a non-threatening way. Even just seeing the food on the table or passing the food bowl counts as food exposures. While your child may choose not to eat the food this time, they may try it next time.

5. Allows children to see others making healthy choices

Children learn from those around them. One of the best ways to encourage healthy eating is for children to see parents eating and enjoying their food.

6. Focuses on family time

There are so many benefits to eating a family meal together. Not only does it encourage your child to eat a healthier diet, but it helps strengthen family bonds. The family-style meal is a wonderful opportunity to sit together as a family, talk about your day and enjoy a delicious meal together in a relaxed, happy environment.

7. Creates a positive food experience

Allowing children to make their own food choices, together with the enjoyment of family time, contribute to a positive experience. Children who have positive experiences with food are more likely to eat and enjoy their meals.

Feeling inspired? Give Taco Tuesday or any other family-style meal a go and let us know how you go in the comments down below.

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