8 Ways to Improve Manners at Meals

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I am hosting a feast for 30, and this is my first time. I realize now how much work it is to host the Thanksgiving meal (we sit at the dining room table(s)! I am thankful for both the almost 18 years of host-free stress, and the blessings of gathering everyone in my home (and not traveling).

This post ran last year at this time, and was guest-authored by Katherine Fowler, a registered dietitian in Nashville. It’s still a good reminder for all of us!

Don’t you love it when a child or teen says “please,” or “thank you?” Especially without prompting?!

This week many will be giving thanks for their blessings.  When I think of giving thanks I envision a happy family gathering together and dining around a Thanksgiving table.  Meals like this are not a daily reality for most of us.  However, I do think “every day” mealtimes should be pleasant, supportive, and engaging.  Manners are necessary and should be taught and used often.  Keeping a positive attitude and reasonable expectations around mealtime manners, conversation, and interactions among family members go a long way toward creating a mealtime environment in which your child wants to be a part.

In my opinion, observing good manners prepares your child to be a patient, confident, capable adult that is able to function in a variety of social situations.  Being polite is never offensive and nearly everyone appreciates being treated with respect.  My mother always said one purpose of manners is to keep those around you from feeling uncomfortable.  I think this is so true!  Your child’s manners are also an extension of you.  How do you want to be represented when you are not around?

Manners need not be saved for special occasions at fancy restaurants, formal dinners, or holiday meals. If they are practiced often they are perfected.  What better place to rehearse mealtime manners than in your own home?  Below are 8 easy ways you can practice and improve your family’s table etiquette:

  1. Eat at a table with the television off.
  2. Avoid answering the phone during a meal.  I recommend not allowing any cell phones at the table.
  3. Ask your children to help set the table.  Kids can learn where utensils should be placed while learning to value the time and effort it takes to prepare for a meal.
  4. Consider starting the meal by saying a blessing or prayer.  This reinforces showing appreciation and can set the tone for the meal.
  5. Expect your children to say “please”, “please pass,” and “thank you.”
  6. Practice how to refuse foods politely.  Tell your kids it is ok to refuse certain items, but there is no need to cause a scene or be insulting.  A simple, “I’m fine thank you,” or “I’d rather not, thanks” work well.
  7. Request that your children ask permission to leave the table and to be excused from the table.
  8. Invite your children to assist you with clean up.  Depending on your child’s age, you can ask that they clear their place setting, rinse off utensils and place them in the dishwasher, or wipe off the table.  The more people that are involved the faster the cleanup!

Have family meals at home as often as possible.  The more your child is exposed to eating with others at the dinner table, the more polished their manners will be.  Do what you can–try to hit 3-5 family meals each week– but if that’s not possible, one family meal per week is better than none!

Remember, your children are watching you and they model your behavior.  If you place importance on practicing good table manners, chances are your family will too.  It is never too late to get started!

How do you teach your child manners?

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