Mealtime Manners & Etiquette

mealtimeOne fact of life we all must live with is that first impressions tend to prejudice all future impressions. That is why first impressions often become “lasting impressions.” It is also a fact that people tend to form favorable “first impressions” of others, when those first encounters are pleasant and live up to or exceed expectations.

That is exactly what good manners will achieve for children, because embedded within mealtime etiquette are otherness-virtues that intuitively resonate with people. People not only connect with the courtesy message, they also appreciate the messenger, even if the messenger is only a six-year-old child. Good manners will always minister grace and life.

That conclusion leads to this warning: Any parent who underestimates the profound influence that mealtime manners will have on their child is already taking a risk with their child’s future. Good manners will always give children an advantage in life, because people always respond positively to the well-mannered child. And some of those people will be people of influence.

Mealtime Basics: What Not To Do
The prohibitions contained in the list below are so common that you might actually hear your mother’s voice as you work through each item. The items on the list do not require a detailed explanation on our part, but they might require a greater explanation when teaching them to your children. As you begin to transfer these concepts, please remember to provide your children the “moral why.” The “moral why” plays a significant role in the transmission of each courtesy, because it helps children connect their behavior to a purpose and not simply to a prohibition. Thus, the simple instruction, “Elbows off the table,” will never be sufficient, if your child does not know how their actions are tied back to the moral consideration of others.

In this case, an elbow or elbows resting on the table while dining is viewed as poor manners for at least two reasons. First, to do so tends to bring the entire body closer to the table, potentially intruding on the space of those with whom the meal is being shared. Second, elbows on the table can also communicate boredom or detachment, especially in formal settings. To do so is construed as one being anti-social and unwilling to engage the moment, thus robbing others of the pleasure associated with the relational aspects of dining. However, elbows resting on the table after the meal, when lingering in conversation, is accepted as a comfortable conversational position, without a tinge of rudeness attached.

The final point to make before reviewing the list is to remind the reader that each prohibition has its own antonym, that is, a corresponding encouragement. For example, “Do not talk with your mouth full of food,” also implies, “Finish chewing your food thoroughly before speaking.” “Do not smack your food,” implies “Chew quietly with your mouth closed.” At some point in your training, courtesy prohibitions must be balanced with the expected behavior. In one way or another each prohibition evolved from centuries of dining habits, and not all were connected to manners. For example, advising children to chew with their mouths closed in medieval Europe had more to do with not accidently swallowing flies attracted to the food than good social habits.

Pinkie-finger dining can be traced back to the Romans. The lower class used the entire hand to feed themselves. The elite class used only the first three fingers to pull meat and move food to their mouths. This forced the ring and little finger to rise above the hand, and eventually raising the “pinky finger” became associated with good breeding. Of course, today raising your pinky finger is neither fashionable nor a sign of good breeding.

Regardless of its origin, each item on the list is considered discourteous and requires Mom or Dad’s attention. Most can be handled with verbal reminders that continually point toward what a child should do and not simply what the child is doing wrong. Finally, our list here is different than what appeared in the DVD presentation because we are constantly updating the list. Some items were combined and new prohibitions added. Regardless, they are all important. Let’s review the list. Instruct your children that it is impolite to:

  1. Chew their food with their mouth open, or talk with food in their mouth.
  2. Fill the mouth so full that the cheeks bulge while chewing.
  3. Spear large pieces of food with their fork, and then bite pieces off from the fork.
  4. Let any unpleasant sound leave their bodies, including sniffing, snorting, smacking or loudly crunching food.
  5. Lean across the table or reach for an item that intrudes into the space of another person.
  6. Eat with their elbows on the table, or slump in their chairs while at the table.
  7. Comment unfavorably about the food, or table setting.
  8. Wave or point with a utensil.
  9. Continually get up and down from their chair while at the dinner table.
  10. Play with their food (especially, when it’s been set apart by prayer).
  11. Take helpings so large that little to no food is left for others.
  12. Take food off of serving plates with their fingers.
  13. Make inappropriate hand gestures or use language that is inappropriate, or voice tones that are loud or disruptive.
  14. Ask a question to a person who is chewing food, or take a drink of water, or talking to another person.
  15. Use their own silverware when taking food, instead of the serving utensils that belongs with the food item.
  16. Never snatch a food item from a serving plate or bread basket, that is purposely being passed to another person.

This list represents basic mealtime courtesies that, when in place, create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable, and consideration for others is given preeminence. You will find more mealtime manner helps in the Video Library at


This article used with permission from Growing Families International –

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