Super Supper Table
Have you ever looked around at a restaurant and realized that there are kids eating in the restaurant and they are acting … well, like humans? These kids are eating nicely, using their utensils properly, not playing with their food, complaining or whining. These children are actually eating, enjoying their food, and not watching a video or playing a game on some electronic gadget. Quelle surprise! Now, have you ever really looked at how your kids eat? And, while looking, were you really happy with their behavior? If so, way to go. You've taught your kids proper eating ettiquette! Way to go! If not, read on.
You want to know what I think is the single worst influence on kids’ behavior at the table? How their parents behave. If their parents sit down to eat together at a table, talk about their days, have a flowing and multi-person conversation (rather than a soliloquy), try all of the foods on their plate without complaining, and express their appreciation of the situation and the food they are receiving (no need to be preachy, just a bit of gratitude), this is setting an excellent example. With this example, their kids will also behave in a like manner. It's not fool-proof, and their children won't be little robots, but on average, they will behave in a more positive manner. On the other hand, if their parents are focusing on their phone/blackberry/ipad/book/tv/whatever, yelling at each other, complaining about the food or not even present (mentally or physically), you can just imagine what their kids are going to be learning from them.
Admittedly, I don’t have perfectly behaved children at the table. They aren’t awful, but they aren’t perfect. They do pretty well, though. They eat – and like – a variety of foods, perhaps more than most kids (although this is probably the influence of living overseas, not just my cooking). They generally readily try new foods, and we've had some really interesting dinnertime discussions. I don’t have any magic tricks, but a couple of things that have worked well for us:
Absolutely no toys at the table. None. Ever. Of any sort. No electronic gadgets, either. The table is for eating, not for playing. Period.
The phone(s) are not answered during eating time. During eating time, we focus on those sitting around us, not on electronic devices. (Clearly, if there is some sort of emergency situation going on, this can be edited).
Everyone must try at least one bite of every food on their plate. They can’t have seconds of anything until they have done so. The only way to know if you don’t (or maybe do!) like something is to try it first.
There is no rule that one must clean their plate. Children have the amazing gift and skill of still being able to listen to their bodies and to know when they are full. As adults, we have forgotten how to listen to these cues, and focus instead on things like social cues (‘Oh, everyone else finished their food, so I should too’), the clock, or other external cues.
Conversations are encouraged; fighting and yelling are not. Eating time is for connecting with family and friends, talking about our days and what else has happened since we were all last together.
Gratitude. I may not be a world class chef, but if I have put in the time and effort to make dinner, a little bit of gratitude would be nice as well as some appreciation for the food. This also goes back to why everyone needs to try a bite of everything on their plate; we don’t waste food. Teaching kids to feel gratitude is important; no one has the right to feel self-entitled. If we focus on feelings of gratitude and appreciation for something as simple as dinner, then kids can learn the importance and impact others have on our well-being. Appreciation for others grows when we pay attention to it.
Don’t expect miracles. Your kids aren’t going to be postcard perfect every day, that much I can guarantee. With some effort, though, their table manners can improve; just show them the behavior you’d like to see more of. More of monkey see, monkey do, really.