USDA Blog: 'Minneapolis School Embraces Family-Style Dining'

By Susan Jones | December 21, 2016 | 6:25 AM EST

A public elementary school in Minneapolis has embraced family style dining for its students, with the aim of teaching children about nutrition, manners, and conversation, all the things they used to learn at home. (Photo from USDA website)

( - "What if school lunchtime was more than just a wait in line and a race to find a seat and eat, but instead was more like a traditional family meal – a time when friends gather to enjoy their food, engage in meaningful conversation, build relationships and gain important life skills?"

That's the question posed by the principal of a Minneapolis public elementary school in a blog posted Tuesday on the Agriculture Department website.

The principal explains that her school decided to abandon the typical chaotic and impersonal lunchroom experience and create a family-style dining program.

"We seized the opportunity that lunch can provide students a chance to gain important knowledge, life skills and habits," Ginger Davis Kranz wrote.

"We reflected on what that would look like and decided to eliminate the lunch line, seat children at round tables where food is served family style, give the children meal responsibilities where they help their peers and maintain the environment and bring teachers, staff and volunteers in the dining hall to join students for the 30-minute lunch."

Kranz said family-style dining aims to build an appreciation for food and where it comes from; create "an awareness of self and others"; produce an understanding of healthy eating; provide a calm space for eating, learning and manners; and give students time to eat and socialize in a healthy way.

In other words, all the things children used to learn at the family dining table.

During the meal, school staff  and volunteers monitor portion sizes and "meal pattern requirements," as mandated by the Obama administration. Student help set the table, pass the food, and clean up afterwards to "restore the environment."

Students serves as “table leads” or “hosts,” taking milk or water orders from their tables, then pouring it into cups and serve to their peers.

The principal says since the family dining started last January, "we continue to tweak the process, but overall, it has been well received by students, families and the community. Instead of a chaotic, student management problem, our lunchroom is a welcoming community that enriches students and adults alike."

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