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Apr 17, 2013 05:32 AM

Weeknight dinner: how do you serve?

I recently just purchased a dining room table that seats more than 4, so for the first time ever I have the option of family-style serving rather than making plates for my family. I also have small kids (3 & 1), but the 3-yr old serves himself family style at school so I know he's capable. Here's my dilemma: I love the idea of family style and everything I read says it's better for kids to serve themselves (learning good eating habits) rather than be forced to eat what's given, but I hate the idea of washing serving bowls on top of the pots & pans and plates! My husband and I both work full time, so most nights I'm home with the kids at 6:00 trying to get cooking and eating done by 7:00 for bedtime at 8:00. Extra cleanup does not appeal. Are any of you making these trade-offs, or have pros/cons I didn't consider?

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  1. We eat together as family at least 5 nights a week but never "family style". The main reason is as you said clean up. Most food goes from the pan to our plates. Why dirty another dish if I don't need to? Even things like a large steak or roast chicken that needed to be sliced on a cutting board will stay on the board in kitchen.

    Obviously there are a few exceptions. I might put the salad bowl on the table as I like to eat after meal not with it on the same plate. if there are rolls/bread I will serve them in basket with my warming stone to keep them warm.

    Honestly? kids benefit from the family being together no matter how or what you are eating. They will learn good eating habits, portion control and manners simply by watching you and your husband. Save yourself some dishes and instead get the kids involved in the kitchen to help cook and let them serve themselves from there. Soon you will get a break as they can eventually start cooking for you!

    2 Replies
    1. re: foodieX2

      Totally agree about involvement in cooking. My 3-yr old pulls his chair up to the counter most nights to be my "sous chef" (or "shoe chef" as it sounds when he says it!). He measures and sprinkles and pours into pots. I definitely see him eat better when he's helped in the prep.

      1. re: foodieX2

        FX...exactly what we did...this way it was their choice and how much they wanted. And generally it was never a problem, unless say they did not feel well. Further, we found that it gives an outlet to express themselves, and we noticed over a period of time, that we got their input into our family meals. This was the start of our family time, and it works well today, with five ranging from 35 down to 20.

      2. we eat together. mostly i plate from the stove, but I do "decant" somethings into serving pieces.....salad and condiments, mostly. i have a dishwasher, though, so i don't really give much thought to clean-up. i have a three year old, too.

        1. Same story at my house, late dinners due to work/sports and we are 4 people, small table. We usually plate the food right from the cooking vessel(s) but then I put salad or side veggies on the table for seconds. For a more leisurely weekend meal, I might put everything in serving dishes for family style.

          1. Until the children are 5 - 6, you should serve them but allow them to express quantity preferences - just 3-bites to more, please.

            For us, "family style" is using the pots/pans as the serving platters.

            How ugly are your pots/pans or containers for leftovers? With "just us", we most often place the pans on the nice trivets on the table and serve from them. Alternatively, we move the food immediately to the containers that will hold / store the leftovers, serve from those then just lid & refrigerate.

            1. We always eat as a family and my group prefers to be served family style. Like you, the idea of extra pieces to wash did not appeal at all.

              Because we like leftovers for lunch the next day, I always cook more than we need for the one meal. It occurred to me that rather than using serving pieces and then putting the food into storage containers, I could just put the food into the storage pieces and use them as a serving piece. After dinner, I just snap on the lids and put in the fridge.

              It helps that I recently purged my kitchen of plastic and bought a glass set of storage containers from Costco. They look a little prettier and that makes me happy.