Does the mental picture of your children eating dinner with your guests at the holidays fill you with dread? You’re not alone! But fear not, there’s still plenty of time for a table manners tune-up before Thanksgiving.

If your children are out of highchairs, you might wonder what kind of behavior to reasonably expect from them at the dinner table.  When is it no longer appropriate for children to use their hands to pick up food?  Can they really be expected to stay seated until everyone is done (without employing super glue)?  Would it kill them to say “please” just once without prompting?

It may make sense for your family to decide together what behavior is most important to you at dinnertime.  You might even engage the kids in a conversation about manners and get their feedback about what makes sitting down to a family meal more enjoyable.

You might find this post on table manners for the 4 – 7 year old from Emily Post helpful as a starting point.

Once you pick a few priorities, discuss them with the kids, remind them of their good-manners goals each night before dinner until they get the hang of it, and give them lots of praise for showing off their new, improved manners.

To help you develop your own, I have come up with a list of my top 10 table manners that will help us get more enjoyment out of family dinners.  (Of course, some of these goals may be too lofty if your kids are on the littler side; you may have to settle for having them eat from the table without mashing food in their hair, or yours.)

  1. Wash your hands before eating.
  2. Put your napkin in your lap at the beginning of the meal, and don’t forget to use it.
  3. Pull in your chair, sit up straight, and keep elbows (and feet!) off the table.
  4. Wait to begin eating until everyone is seated and served.
  5. Use proper utensils to eat, and cut your food into bite-sized pieces.
  6. Ask your neighbor to pass an item on the table rather than reaching across their plate to get it.
  7. Chew with your mouth closed, and don’t talk with food in your mouth.
  8. Be an active and considerate participant in the conversation.
  9. Ask to be excused before leaving the table, and clear your plate.  (You may also want to ask your family to load their plates in the dishwasher and clear something extra.)
  10. Kiss (I mean thank) the cook(s).  (I’m particularly fond of this one!)

Good manners chart: Parents can print and use this sticker chart as positive reinforcement for good manners.  (Enter to win a copy of the Table Manners Card Game from Golly Gee-pers below).

Don’t Gross Out the World: Your kids will love taking this interactive quiz on international table manners.

After all of their hard work perfecting their table manners, your kids will be delighted to know that they can eat these chicken satay skewers with their hands as long as they hold onto the sticks and not the food. Or you can slide the meat off the skewers for them to eat them with a fork and knife while they’re still practicing their skills.

By the way, in Indonesia, many traditional families eat with their hands, however it is impolite to start eating or drinking until invited to do so by one’s host.

To win a copy of the Table Manners Game from Golly-Geepers, please leave a comment below with the table manner that you most desperately want your child(ren) to learn before the holidays. We will select one winner using Random.org on November 8th, so please leave your comment before midnight on November 7th. Contest is now closed. Congratulations to our winner, Kathleen.

Recipe: Indonesian Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

  • Prep Time: 10 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 10 min(s)
  • Total Time: 20 min(s)
  • Servings: 8

Enjoy these on the skewer or cut up in bite-sized pieces!

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 lbs. chicken tenderloins or boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch wide strips
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup creamy or chunky natural peanut butter
  • 1 lime, juice only, 2 Tbsp.

Instructions

  1. First, make the marinade: In a small bowl, mix together 4 Tbsp. soy sauce, 2 Tbsp. honey, the oil, garlic, 1 tsp. minced ginger, and the red pepper flakes (optional). Put the chicken in a large flat dish with sides, pour the marinade over it, and turn the chicken several times to coat it. Cover and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
  2. When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the grill or the broiler (with the rack about 4 inches from the heat), and coat a grilling tray or baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line it with foil.
  3. Drain the chicken from the marinade and transfer it to the tray or pan, discarding the marinade. Weave it onto skewers (optional, but if you are using wooden skewers, soak the skewers in water first so they don’t burn.) Grill or broil the chicken for 4 - 5 minutes per side until it is cooked through and the edges are browned.
  4. While the chicken is cooking, make the peanut sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together the hot water, peanut butter, lime juice, 1 tsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. honey, and 1 tsp. ginger until it is smooth. Serve the chicken with the sauce on the side for dipping.

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  • Amanda S.

    Eating with their mouths closed!

  • http://www.glammomsguide.blogspot.com Lara M

    I want my 21 month old to stop dumping his bowl on the table when he gets tired of eating.

  • Adriana P.

    I would love for my children to be able to have pleasant conversation with each other on a variety of topics. Thanks!

  • Lorrie B

    I would love for my children to ask to be excused from the table instead of leaving themselves to go play.
    – of course, more kisses for mommy (the cook) would be great too!

  • patricia

    I would love to have my child not use utensils as drumsticks in between bites!!!

  • lauren

    I would love it if my girls would help with clean up without me asking (multiple times) to do so- and of course the thank you kisses are always welcomed~

  • http://allergickid.blogspot.com/ Libby

    Have been trying for YEARS to get 8 y.o. to eat with his mouth closed. Nothing seems to work.

  • Annelyse Miller

    I would love for my almost 2 year old and three year old to actually use their silverware during the meal. I end up washing them, not because they are used but because they end up on the floor. They learned how to use their spoons so young but have given up actually feeding themselves!

  • Stacey Murphy

    I would like for the boys to wait to eat until everyone is seated and we say grace. And the girls (ages 2 & 3) need to use their utensils. :)

  • Suzanne Dawson

    I would love to see my grandsons offer to help take other’s dishes to the sink, and I actually think they will enjoy it too! Thanks for the lovely list.

  • Kat

    I really want my 2 year old to stop spitting out food he doesn’t like (or feel like eating) and my 6 year old to stop turning around in his chair.