Another disastrous family meal. My husband and I sit surrounded by wailing children who act like cave men. My son grabs food with his fingers, ramming it whole into his mouth, it barely touches the side. My 3 year old daughter is dancing on her chair and then gets off to run around the garden, leaving her half eaten plate. In 5 minutes she’ll run back for another bite.
“It’s like feeding time at the zoo!” My mum jokes.
She’s not far off.
“The tiger is never going to come to tea!” I threaten.
Children are Not Born With Good Table Manners
I know how frustrating it can be. There are days when my husband takes his breakfast bowl into another room because he can’t stand the screaming (our three year old twins are not great at expressing themselves verbally.)
I know that it’s normal but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I know that children are not born with good table manners.
I know that good manners take time to cultivate.
I also know that there are certain manners that are important to cultivate because they help you to eat more healthily, they help to teach your children healthy eating habits.
These table manners help you to encourage and promote healthy eating in your children.
Of course, they aren’t going to happen overnight but these are the “healthy eating manners” that I want to nurture in my children and not just because I’d quite like to be able to take them to a restaurant one day without worrying about their behaviour.
- Sit down to eat. Preferably at the table with crockery and cutlery. So often I see kids walking home from school, snack in hand, walking and eating. Eating without thinking. Or worse still, watching the television, shovelling sticky snacks into their mouths. When you eat without thinking about it, without concentrating on what you’re eating, you’re far more likely to over eat. Sitting down to eat, even if you’re at the park or the beach, helps you to concentrate on what you’re eating. It helps you to realise when you’ve eaten enough.
- Sit down, eat and when you have finished, get up again.
When you have finished eating and left the table, that’s it. There’s no going back for a little bit more in 5 minutes. This is not something my 3 year olds understand, even though they frequently find that their plate has been cleared away.
The idea that you want to teach your kids is to:
Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are no longer hungry.
- Use a Knife and Fork or Spoon. Social etiquette aside, a knife and fork also helps you to concentrate on what you’re eating. It forces you to eat more slowly that “shovel it into my mouth mode”. For young children it can be extra difficult, but working for your food isn’t a bad idea.
This is not something any of my children do all the time. But we are working on it.
- Start with a small portion and come back for seconds if they are still hungry. We are programmed to eat what is on our plates. It is far better to eat a small plate full and have more if you’re still hungry than over eat just because it’s on your plate. I make my children measure out their breakfast cereal because otherwise they would happily tip the whole packet into one bowl. I also make them wait for everyone else to finish to have seconds. Sometimes your tummy needs a little extra time to realise it is in fact full. Or indeed 80% full.
- Eat until you are 80% full. We are also programmed to eat until bursting but in our world of plenty, we know they’ll be another eating opportunity in a few hours time. We only need to eat until we are no longer hungry. “80% full” is a great way of expressing it.
Patience and Persistence
I know, I know. Sometimes it feels as if good table manners are the least of your worries. This isn’t going to happen overnight, especially if you have boisterous toddlers.
But by demonstrating these values and having family meals as often as you can, you are taking big steps to teach and encourage your kid to develop healthy eating habits.
Not only do these manners promote healthy eating but perhaps one day we really will make it to a restaurant and the kids will sit down politely, order their food and wait for it to arrive. Perhaps in ten years or so!
Healthy Eating for Picky Toddlers. A Pediatrician’s Guide to Happy Meal Times
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