Please start teaching etiquette to children early. Thank you.
BY CHEF TIFFANY POE The Busy Kitchen
Monday, February 11, 2013
2/11/13 at 6:34 AM
Editor's Note: The Busy Kitchen is a Monday column written by two area chefs - Tiffany Poe and Valarie Carter - who also happen to be mothers of young children. They explore nutrition, cooking for kids and more.
We've all been there. We're at the cafe or restaurant, and all of a sudden the kid next to us starts throwing a food tantrum - or worse.
My kids have done it, and there is nothing more embarrassing as a parent than feeling like you have rude, unappreciative or ill-mannered children.
Table etiquette is an important skill that our children need to be able to successfully navigate a future where bad manners are everywhere.
I'm rarely impressed with the manners and overall etiquette skills I see with my generation and younger. The basics of social and table graces have somehow slipped through the cracks, and it's high time we resurrect those skills that grandma so longed for us to carry on.
Here are some of the etiquette topics I have used with my own children and that I've used to teach kids in a manners boot camp-style training class. All can be applied to anyone, from age 3 up to adult.
They are easy to apply and, once they have mastered one idea or topic, add another. You'll find they will be eager to eventually master them all, leaving you confident that they have the skills needed to eventually teach the same etiquette to their kids one day.
Back to basics This one is obvious but still needs to be listed first: saying "please" and "thank you."
There are not any words that ring sweeter off the tongue of a child or young person than these. I emphasize them every day, and I don't respond to requests or answers without them. Be a hard-nose. It's worth it.
Making demands "Give me a drink," or "I want a bite." This type of communication at the table isn't acceptable.
The exception is if a child is first learning to speak. After that, it's no go.
The more appropriate requests should sound like: "May I have a drink please?" or "May I please try a bite or have a bite?" Rewording these simple sentences can make a huge difference in the way your offspring communicate in the future. Reinforce it now, and don't give into demands.
Ordering at a restaurant When it comes to kids and eating out, every parent has his or her own survival mechanisms.
Sometimes, though, we feel like we've lost the reins when it comes to deciding what our kids eat when we go out. The kids are yelling "we want this, we want that," and we can't even see straight.
I've started taking a different approach to feeding my children when we go out. Since I could fill a small thimble with what my kids really know about nutrition and eating correctly, I do the ordering. I usually let them use the kids' menu for a coloring sheet because, being ridden with fatty, cheap carbs and sodium-laden, deep-fried meat options, that's all it's really good for.
Usually, they can share a regularly priced menu item for less money, and try new foods that they will need to know and love as adults. They always end up happy, and I have an easier time communicating with the server. As they get older, I let them have a choice in the matter - after I've trained them to make the best choices for their health.
Sitting still on your bottom This topic applies to children ages 3-8 but is important because it sets the stage for the future and how they act and react when they get older.
Napkins in your lap I like to have my children using napkins at every meal. They don't have to be cloth, of course, but the idea of always using a napkin saves not only the clothing budget but also helps them practice for when we eat out.
Saying "excuse me" - specifically, when entering the adult conversation during dinner.
Learning the flatware game There are few times as a kid that you need more that one fork, spoon or knife. Occasionally, though, I like to teach my kids the proper table setting for preparation as adults.
We play a game, and I give prizes for using the correct utensils in the correct order. It doesn't have to be fancy: a simple salad, soup, entree and dessert mix-up of courses can be used.
The kids love to pretend, and it gives you a chance to use those old plates and glasses you never get out anymore.
Chewing with your mouth closed and not talking with your mouth full These two very basic rules are part of being a civilized human; however, they are all too soon forgotten, even as adults. Reinforce these topics every meal with your little ones.
Elbows off the table I know it can be annoying to hear, but there is a reason. Elbows on the table send the body language message of being bored, uncultured or even rude during a meal.
I teach my kids if they are finished or at a point in between eating and need to do something with their hands, to fold them and place them on their lap. It looks nicer and is more accepted socially.
Not eating food on your plate This topic is tricky because every family and parent has a particular way of dealing with this issue.
We hate to be the parent who creates portion-control issues because we made our kids finish the whole plate. We also don't want to be the crazy parent who only lets their kids eat cheese and bread at every meal.
I believe in a healthy balance and love the approach Karen LeBillon takes in her book "French Kids Eat Everything." She suggests having them try everything at least once to develop their taste buds. If the kid says they don't like it, her reply is simple: "You haven't tried it enough times to like it yet." I love this approach.
Burping It is safe to say that all kids have maliciously burped during a home meal or, even worse, in public.
It's a hard habit to break, especially if they have been laughed at by other kids or reinforced by adults.
Burping into your napkin or with your mouth closed is the best way to teach. Reinforce with the proper "excuse me" and, eventually, they will get the memo.
Removing unwanted food from mouth The proper etiquette way to remove food from your mouth if you don't want to swallow it is to place it back on your fork or spoon, and then place that bite under your plate or in a napkin.
With kids, it's a little harder. I have them first start with their napkin and, if they are older, with the utensil.
Refusing options The ideal way to refuse a food option during dinner is "no, thank you." Still, there are the times when the child can say that with every option.
I like to set number rules. I tell my children you can either try this or that - usually, two healthy options. I also like giving them number requirements when we are at a buffet or a dinner party: "You have to try at least three vegetables or three new things."
They don't always like the numbers, but it at least gives them something tangible to shoot for.
Finishing the meal Every situation is different; however, I still like, "May I please be excused?"
That phrase is not just a saying from the 1950s. It's still relevant today and such a nice way to have your kids exit the dinner table.
Requesting food or drink at a restaurant or public place As children get older, they become more confident interacting with service staff when dining out.
I try to model the sentences I want my kids to use by having them practice on me first.
My son once said, "Hey, Mister, bring me some more water." I was mortified. We immediately started practicing the saying, "Excuse me, Sir, may I please have some more water?" I definitely sleep better at night now.
Original Print Headline: Please start etiquette lessons early. Thank you.
Chef Tiffany Poe, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., owns Tiffany Poe Culinary Services, a consulting, food styling and corporate coaching company. She and her husband have three small children and own The Grandview Inn, a historic bed and breakfast near the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Pawhuska. Find more of her recipes on her blog, tulsaworld.com/gastronomymommy
Table etiquette is an important skill that children need to be able to successfully navigate a future where bad manners are everywhere. Once a child has mastered one skill, add another. Tulsa World file