by Martha Nesbit
Teaching young children table manners can pay off big dividends – they will be more confident when dining away from home, and their good manners will cause them to be welcomed guests!
So, what should you teach young children, and how? As with teaching anything to children - like buckling up for safety in the car – use repetition, repetition, and repetition, until manners become habits. And, if you make manners fun, children are more likely to enjoy using them at your table and when dining out.
Here are the most important rules for little people:
- Wait until everyone is seated and ready to begin eating. In our house, no one can eat until after the blessing. You may also suggest that eating begin after the cook has picked up his or her fork.
- Don’t talk with food in your mouth. This is particularly difficult for young diners, who are blurters, saying whatever comes to mind as soon as it pops into their little heads! Remind them to chew all of their food, swallow, then speak. Tell them that many adults too do not follow this rule!
- Likewise, don’t chew with your mouth open. This can happen even if you are not talking, and often leads to the biggest eating no-no of all – smacking!
- Place your napkin in your lap. This can take little ones a long time to do, as the napkin has to be unfolded and spread, and they can make quite a production of the procedure. Be patient, and let them do it. The beauty of a napkin in the lap is that the inevitable spills go onto the napkin, not onto your child’s clothes.
- Use the napkin to keep food off of your face and from around your mouth. Teach your children to dab at the corners of their mouths with a small piece of the napkin. Wipe your mouth with the napkin at the end of each meal, just in case.
- Practice at home which foods can be eaten with the fingers, and which ones are designed to be cut. Fried chicken, French fries, fried shrimp and fish sticks are all OK to eat with your fingers. I’m even OK with picking up little broccoli spears with the fingers. But peas are a no-no, as are carrots and beans. And please, don’t let your children eat creamy foods – like macaroni and cheese – with their fingers. Practicing at home will help your child be ready when he or she is out among other experienced diners.
- Everyone - children and adults – should remain at the table until all are finished eating. It is impolite to hop up from the table when you are done, or to leave the table at a restaurant and visit another table. There are certain times, like when adults are talking and taking a really long time to eat, when children may ask to be excused from the table. If the answer is “yes,” then teach your children to take their plates to the kitchen, scrape the plate into the trash can, and place the place next to the sink or in the dish washer.
- Finally, say “thank you” to whomever prepared or purchased your meal. Being grateful is one of the most important of all manners, and it is the one that the cook (or the one who picked up the check) will remember most.
Martha has been a Savannah food writer for 35 years. She collaborated with Paula Deen on Paula Deen and Friends, Paula Deen Celebrates, My First Cookbook, and Paula Deen’s Cookbook for the Lunchbox Set. When not writing about food, she works with students and teachers as director of instruction at Oglethorpe Charter School.
Next entry: After School Treats
Previous entry: An invitation to lunch