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Meal Pattern Minute: Family Style Dining

April 12, 2024

In the Child and Adult Care Food Program, there a few ways you may decide to serve healthy meals to those in your care. The options are pre-plated, offer-versus-serve (At-Risk Afterschool Only), and family style dining.  Many centers and family child care homes have started transitioning to family style dining from pre-plated meals for the benefits it can provide to children. Maybe this is the first time you’ve heard this type of meal service or perhaps this is a refresher, so you might be wondering what is family style dining? 

Get a quick definition on this Meal Pattern Minute question with Isabel Ramos-Lebron, MS, RDN, LD.  

Looking to start family style meal service in your center or family child care home? Review the resources below to help you get started. 

  • Family Style Meal Service with Children in the Child and Adult Care Food Program Operator Booklet 
    • In family style meal service, children can help set the table; serve themselves from bowls, plates, and/or pitchers on the table; and talk with others at mealtime. While family style meal service is optional in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), there are many benefits to serving meals family style. Children can:  
      • Eat without pressure—eat when they feel hungry and stop when they feel full. 
      • Practice their fine motor skills—strengthening the small muscles in their hands and fingers—while learning to serve and feed themselves. 
      • Build self-esteem and confidence by serving themselves.
      • Develop healthy eating behaviors, such as trying new foods and making food choices. 
      • Practice their social and language skills by talking with other children and teachers. 
      • Get to know other children and teachers. 
    • Eating together can give children a sense of belonging and is valued by many cultures. While there are many benefits to family style meal service, it can take practice. Children and adults need time to develop skills to be successful at mealtime. Use this guide to help prepare and support children, train staff, and meet CACFP meal pattern requirements to successfully serve meals family style at your site.   
  • Staff Training Slides for Family Meal Service 
    • Educate and train you and your staff on how to execute family style meal service at your center or family child care home using this Power Point slide deck.  
  • Serving Meals “Family Style”
    • Let the parents know that your center or home is starting family style meal service. This two-page handout guide parents on how they can tray family style meals at home, how to support their young children at mealtimes, and provide conversation starters at the table. 


  • CACFP Trainers’ Circle Webinar: Family Style Meal Service With Children in the CACFP  
    • Watch as USDA’s Team Nutrition and explore a new, free resource to help CACFP sites start or enhance family style meal service with children at mealtime. Learn tips for preparing and supporting children, training staff, and meeting CACFP meal pattern requirements to successfully serve meals “family style.” The Nebraska Department of Education will also share how they developed and utilized tools to train child care providers on family style meal service.  
  • Family Style Dining: Conversations Around the Table  
    • Encourage young ones to share their thoughts and stories as they gather around the dining table- family-style. This interactive experience fosters not only healthy eating habits but also helps them learn the art of conversation, where little voices can be heard and cherished. Receive tips on how to make family-style dining kid-friendly and discover resources to start conversing with children at the table!

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