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Can I know what and how much you should eat, better than your body does?

Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Blog Posts | 5 comments

After years of serving family style (serving bowls in the middle of the table, and allowing family members to serve themselves)  I recently had to pre plate dinner for my family. I roasted a chicken  and made green beans and Alexia brand oven fries. We wanted to eat outside, and it was getting late and I didn’t want to drag everything outside in bowls and pots. Just wanted three plates.


Here’s the thing. It felt weird, and off, and I didn’t like it. How could I know how many fries vs. beans I might want in that moment, much less two other people who were active at varying degrees, or ate more or less earlier in the day. Or my child, maybe getting ready for a growth spurt, or coming down with a cold…

The notion that I would know what and how much their bodies wanted or needed felt totally unnatural.

Some nights, for example, when I make pork chops, I enjoy a small amount, cutting an inch strip off the chop and savoring other things. Other nights, I really feel like, and eat two whole chops if there is enough.

Plus, by the time we got everything plated, the chicken carved etc., the beans and fries were cold. I forgot that serving at the table generally means hotter food, and I really like my food hot!

If serving family style is new to you, I imagine it will feel as weird, and unnatural and out of control to allow yourself and others to eat what they are hungry for from what is on the table. If you’re getting the hang with serving family style, and seeing the rewards in terms of behaviors and variety, know that not too far from now this will feel like your new norm.

Some families I work with who have small kitchens, or small tables, or can’t handle one more dish to wash without a dishwasher figure out how to pre plate and make it work for them. But I am grateful and plan on continuing our family-style meals! Here is an old post on getting started with family-style serving, and addressing barriers.

What do you think? Are you pre-plating? How is that working? Family style?



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  1. Martina

    I used to serve family style for my husband and I and pre-plate for our toddler daughter. I switched over to asking her if she would like a particular food and serving it to her plate (as you suggested in a video somewhere). We’re currently fostering a 2.5 year old boy and doing the same for him. I am wondering though… he tends to say yes to just about everything I offer him or will serve himself…and then not eat it. Any suggestions or concerns there? For example, one night he took all of the carrot sticks and put them on his plate. I should have stopped him, I guess, but I was excited that he wanted to eat vegetables. But after smothering them in Ranch, he mostly just licked them and ate only 1-2. It felt pretty wasteful and no one else got to eat any carrots. Maybe I’m missing the simple step of saying “Only put on your plate what you are going to eat.”

    • katja

      You have great instincts here! How might it feel to say, “How about you start with two, and if you want more you may have them.” No need to let them take it all, or waste it all, but there will be some food waste. I talk about this and more in my book on helping fostering and adoptive parents with feeding issues. Love Me, Feed Me. Sounds like you are doing a great job! How’s it feeling overall so far? M, at 7 still takes food that she doesn’t eat. I think she has every intention when she serves herself to eat it, and then changes her mind, or fills up on other things. Far better to waste a little food than to try to make them finish it which can lead to learned overeating, or pushback and eating LESS than they might otherwise. Great questions!

      • Martina

        Thanks for your reply. I feel like it’s going OK overall. He often asks for more of something while he still hasn’t finished what is on his plate so we’ve been trying to be gentle and encouraging. “Sure, there is a lot of pasta left in the bowl and I’m happy to give you more when you finish the pasta that’s already on your plate.” I’ve also moved back to serving the food rather than allowing him to serve himself…I just don’t think the maturity and self-control is there yet. But do I ask if he’d like [blank] and ask him to point to where on his plate he wants it if he responds positively. We’re wasting quite a bit but I’m used to that with my daughter and I’m just happy that they’re both trying a lot of different foods and figuring out what they like to eat. I’m thankful that my parents always raised us to stop eating when we get full with no pressure to clear our plates or take a certain number of bites. I’m happy to say I’m very healthy and enjoy a huge variety of foods. Thanks!

  2. inge

    I do not pre-plate, ever, because, as you say, how can I know much of what someone wants to eat? Also, how do you carry four to eight full plates?

    If I do not want to carry the bowls to the table (usually because the table is too small, or because something needs to go back to the fridge or the oven quickly), everyone comes into the kitchen, gets a plate and helps themselves. And if they want a second helping, they go back and get it.