Manners are a must for young children

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Manners are a must for young children

Many adults find themselves at formal dinners, in restaurants or as dinner guests without the knowledge of skills necessary to correctly use eating utensils. It can be very embarrassing to grab the wrong fork or napkin, especially if others at the table have this knowledge and skill.

Each culture has its own rules for dining. In some countries, the meal is served on one very large platter, everybody eats from that platter and uses their hands. Even in these countries there are very strict rules of table etiquette. In many countries, knives, forks and spoons are not the utensil of choice. Can you eat with chopsticks? The Oriental populations consider it very important to know and practice good table manners.

While this topic is on the fringes of food, nutrition and health, it is appropriate to begin teaching the do’s and don’ts to young children. As you expand their horizons with stories and experiences from other places in the world, you can point out the differences in table manners. Pictures of various types of meal service will be helpful.

Setting the table

The plate goes in the center of the place setting. The fork(s) and napkin go the left of the plate; the knife goes to the right of the plate with the blade of the knife turned toward the plate. Spoon(s) go the right of the knife. The glass and or cup goes to the right of the plate, just about an inch above the tip of the knife.

Good table manners

When the meal starts, each person should take their napkin and place it in their lap. One hand should remain in the lap throughout the meal except when it is being used to cut food. Elbows should never rest on the table.

The fork is held in the dominant hand. Young children usually grasp the fork in the fist, but as children develop the use of their hands, they should be taught to hold forks and spoons with the thumb, index and middle fingers.

Take small bites, and chew each bite thoroughly before taking the next bite. Never talk with food in the mouth and always chew with the lips closed. If food gets on the outside of the mouth, use the napkin to wipe it away, don’t lick.

People should see you eat, not hear you eat. This means that slurping, smacking guzzling, sucking the teeth and belching are good examples of bad manners.

Soup should be sipped from the side of the spoon. The whole soup spoon should not go into the mouth.

When children gain the ability to cut their food with a knife and fork, the correct way to do this should be demonstrated and children should be helped and allowed to practice until they are able to do it. Meat is difficult to cut and requires a sharp knife, so children should begin by cutting pancakes, waffles and vegetables.

Correct place settings should be provided for young children as frequently as possible. Usually a child’s place contains only one knife, one fork and one spoon. Adults who provided only a spoon or a fork to children at meal time are missing the opportunity to teach children how to correctly use these utensils.

Source: Food and Nutrition Bulletin , Maryland State Department of Education

Updated February 8, 2023 2:10pm