Individual Plates or Family Style? A Comparison of Serving

dinner-plateGrowing up my mother served meals on individual plates. She knew just how much to give everyone. We never felt deprived. The food was good and we knew we could always ask for more. My father would complain that my mother gave him too much, but he ate it all and managed to stay slim.

When I got married, I wanted to serve individually but my husband objected. He felt I was controlling how much he ate, and was used to “family style” meals from his home. I never understood that term, because the only time we used serving bowls was when we had guests and ate in the dining room. But I guess the term came about because restaurants serve meals on plates.

Over the years I have continued to find advantages to preparing a plate for each person:

  • Education. Children are more likely to try new things if they are on their plates.
  • Convenience. Cleanup takes less time and there are no serving dishes to wash.
  • Health. No extra food on the table means less overeating, and meals can be more balanced.
  • Safety. Leftovers stay warm and covered on the stove, preventing spoilage.
  • Economy. The server can decide which foods—particularly leftovers from another meal— need to get used up first.

An alternative is to put the main course on individual plates, and side dishes or a vegetable plate in the middle.

When I served a guest I had brought home from college for a few days, my mother complained that I put too much food on her plate. My friend mentioned it to me too, privately. But at the end of the visit, she said that she felt she had lost weight. My mother taught me that you’re not always doing people a favor by pushing extra food on them.

Which way of serving works best for your family? Have you ever tried to change the way you serve meals?

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  1. I never like it when people decide the quantities I should eat, or the foods I should choose.

    • Batya, thank you for visiting.
      I’m talking about parents choosing for children. Don’t you decide what your children eat for any given meal? When you have guests, you also decide the menu. I’m not suggesting making up plates for guests, although I’ve been at many catered events where I was given all of the food already on a plate.

  2. Love your new blog!

    Growing up, my mother always served us food already on the plate. Maybe that’s why I do the same thing. I guess it’s just easier for me (and my husband) to make up my kids’ plates. It’s funny, I recently told my husand that I was tired of doing that and that maybe the kids should start filling their own plates. But so far we’re still doing it the old way! I guess I’m afraid that they’ll skip the stuff they don’t want, take too much of what they do want, etc.

    Of course, when we have guests we do buffet style (though I still make up my kids’ plates).

  3. Linda Watson says

    Great post. I plate meals for my husband & myself. I usually serve guests family style so they can discretely pass on what they don’t want or can’t eat and have more of what they want. Nut plating let’s you do more with the presentation. A nice way to plate just for one person who may be visually impaired or disabled is to tell everyone at the table that you made an example plate to show them how it could be done (what gets the sauce, etc.).