Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.5 Meal Service, Seating, and Supervision

4.5.0 Socialization During Meals

COVID-19 modification as of July 28, 2023.

After reading the CFOC standard, see COVID-19 modification below (Also consult applicable state licensure and public health requirements).


Caregivers/teachers and children should sit at the table and eat the meal or snack together. Family style meal service, with the serving platters, bowls, and pitchers on the table so all present can serve themselves, should be encouraged, except for infants and very young children who require an adult to feed them. A separate utensil should be used for serving. The adults should encourage, but not force, the children to help themselves to all food components offered at the meal. When eating meals with children, the adult(s) should eat items that meet nutrition standards. The adult(s) should encourage social interaction and conversation, using vocabulary related to the concepts of color, shape, size, quantity, number, temperature of food, and events of the day. Extra assistance and time should be provided for slow eaters. Eating should be an enjoyable experience at the facility and at home.


COVID-19 modification as of July 28, 2023: 

When COVID-19 hospital admission levels are moderate to high, programs may temporarily stop serving meals family-style and increase the use of masks. 

When community transmission levels are low, programs may resume family-style meals if the following implement strategies are followed:

  • Provide as much fresh air as possible. When possible, have children eat outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces.
  • Wash hands prior to and immediately after eating.
  • Clean and sanitize food surfaces before and after meals.

Programs should continue to:

  • Serve meal components in serving sizes as specified in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
  • Hold conversations at the table with children to guide their decisions about how much they want to eat.
  • Inform families of changes to mealtime practices and communicate how their children respond.

For more information on COVID hospital admission levels in your county, please refer to CDC’s COVID by County.

Additional Resources:

“Family style” meal service promotes and supports social, emotional, and gross and fine motor skill development. Caregivers/teachers sitting and eating with children is an opportunity to engage children in social interactions with each other and for positive role-modeling by the adult caregiver/teacher. Conversation at the table adds to the pleasant mealtime environment and provides opportunities for informal modeling of appropriate eating behaviors, communication about eating, and imparting nutrition learning experiences (1-3,5-7). The presence of an adult or adults, who eat with the children, helps prevent behaviors that increase the possibility of fighting, feeding each other, stuffing food into the mouth and potential choking, and other negative behaviors. The future development of children depends, to no small extent, on their command of language. Richness of language increases as adults and peers nurture it (5). Family style meals encourage children to serve themselves which develops their eye-hand coordination (3-5). In addition to being nourished by food, infants and young children are encouraged to establish warm human relationships by their eating experiences. When children lack the developmental skills for self-feeding, they will be unable to serve food to themselves. An adult seated at the table can assist and be supportive with self-feeding so the child can eat an adequate amount of food to promote growth and prevent hunger.
Compliance is measured by structured observation. Use of small pitchers, a limited number of portions on service plates, and adult assistance to enable children to successfully serve themselves helps to make family style service possible without contamination or waste of food.
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Feeding Plans and Dietary Modifications Serving Size for Toddlers and Preschoolers Encouraging Self-Feeding by Older Infants and Toddlers Nutrition Learning Experiences for Children
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start. 2009. Head Start program performance standards. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Start Program/Program Design and Management/Head Start Requirements/Head Start Requirements/45 CFR Chapter XIII/45 CFR Chap XIII_ENG.pdf.
  2. Benjamin, S. E., ed. 2007. Making food healthy and safe for children: How to meet the national health and safety performance standards – Guidelines for out of home child care programs. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill, NC: National Training Institute for Child Care Health Consultants.
  3. Endres, J. B., R. E. Rockwell. 2003. Food, nutrition, and the young child. 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2002. Making nutrition count for children - Nutrition guidance for child care homes. Washington, DC: USDA.
  5. Pipes, P. L., C. M. Trahms, eds. 1997. Nutrition in infancy and childhood. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  6. Branscomb, K. R., C. B. Goble 2008. Infants and toddlers in group care: Feeding practices that foster emotional health. Young Children 63:28-33.
  7. Sigman-Grant, M., E. Christiansen, L. Branen, J. Fletcher, S. L. Johnson. 2008. About feeding children: Mealtimes in child-care centers in four western states. J Am Diet Assoc 108:340-46.

COVID-19 modification as of July 28, 2023.