Helping Children to Serve Themselves

Families, Food and Fitness September 25, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Healthy Portions for Preschoolers logo

Caregivers have an important role in supporting children’s participation in family-style meals, beginning as early as toddlerhood.  Guided opportunities for children to practice self-serving are important to help children learn to select healthy portions.  It also helps them make connections between serving and their eating cues as well as to minimize plate waste. Children begin to learn the skills that they need to become independent eaters during their first year of life. Self-serving involves the development of motor skills such as holding utensils and passing food. It also involves social skills such as good manners, learning to share, and to care for others at the table.  These skills benefit preschool aged children’s development and independence in eating at family meals.

Let’s learn more about how to help children serve themselves at family style meals:

YouTube logoIn the Kitchen Video- Learning to feed themselves

Here are some of the things that children learn from serving themselves at family-style meals:

  • How to hold and pass bowls and pitchers.
  • Judging how much to put on their plates.
  • Taking turns as foods are served.
  • Spooning food from a serving dish.
  • Requesting foods using “give and take” of conversation.

For more information: Self-feeding Skills Development Chart

Alternative to Family Style Meals


In some cases, family-style service is not always possible at all meals or for all foods.  Be creative to find opportunities to let children practice serving:

  • Have your child say “when” as foods are being portioned to allow children to have a role in how much they would like to eat. 
  • Allow your child to select a pre-portioned food at snacks and meals, such as roll, bag of pretzels, piece of fruit, or carton of milk. 
  • Let your child serve one part of the meal—for instance, a pasta dish one day, and a vegetable side dish the next.

Family style meals are an important part of helping young children develop the social and motor skills to becoming a happy, healthy, and independent eater. 

For more information on supporting self-feeding skills and family style meals check out this helpful website:


Healthy Portions for Preschoolers logo  More information on Healthy Portions for Preschoolers: 

MyPlate for Preschoolers

Teaching Children to Listen to Their Bodies

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.