Last week at the dinner table, I noticed my children hunched over their plates, shoveling food in by the forkful. While that probably reflects well on the recipe I was testing that night (Sizzling Korean Beef), it doesn't reflect well on their table manners. Then I noticed that my husband and I weren't exactly ideal role models for refined dining habits. I had an elbow on the table and was sitting cross legged, and Andrew looked like he was orally vacuuming food rather than chewing it. Our whole family needs a table manner “tune up” before the holidays if we want to distinguish our eating habits from those of Suerte and Jesse, our beloved dogs.
Is insisting on good table manners old-fashioned? Not at all! According to Cindy Post Senning, co-author of Emily Post's Table Manners for Kids (Collins, May 2009), “Table manners are tools that can keep eating and mealtimes as pleasant as possible. Also, if you know which one is your glass, you're less likely to drink your neighbor's cider. If you know how to hold your utensils, you're less likely to spill your food in your lap.” In other words, meal time is more enjoyable and more sanitary when we observe good manners. Plus, basic table etiquette shows respect for your dining companions, be they royalty or relatives.
I have come up with a list of my top 10 table manner tips for children that will likely help all of us get more enjoyment out of family dinners. Of course, depending on the age of your children, some of these goals may be too lofty; you may have to settle for having younger ones eat from the table and refrain from mashing food in their hair, or yours.
10 Table Manners Rules to Teach Children
- Wash your hands before eating.
- Put your napkin in your lap at the beginning of the meal, and don’t forget to use it.
- Pull in your chair, sit up straight, and keep elbows (and feet!) off the table.
- Wait to begin eating until everyone is seated and served.
- Use proper utensils to eat, and cut your food into bite-sized pieces.
- Ask your neighbor to pass an item on the table rather than reaching across their plate to get it.
- Chew with your mouth closed, and don’t talk with food in your mouth.
- Be an active and considerate participant in the conversation.
- Ask to be excused before leaving the table, and clear your plate. (You may also want to ask your family to load their plates in the dishwasher and clear something extra.)
- Kiss (I mean thank) the cook. (I’m particularly fond of this one!)
Your family may have different priorities for good manners than mine does, so please share: What table manners are most important in your household?
Aviva Goldfarb is a Family Dinner Expert and founder and CEO of the family dinner planning site, the Six O’Clock Scramble. Aviva is author of 3 cookbooks including her most recent, "SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Meals for Busy Families”, which was named one of the best cookbooks of 2010 by the Washington Post. Aviva is a recent and upcoming Today Show guest and is frequently featured in national parenting, lifestyle and health magazines and TV and radio shows.