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Realistic Goals for Picky Eating Etiquette

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A Parent’s Primer on The Three Levels of Manners

How can I teach my kids proper manners in the modern world? It is a question that is coming up more and more as society and mainstream culture as a whole move further and further away from the more reserved and formal society of the past. There was a time when children were generally expected to be “seen and not heard”, elbows were never placed on the table, and social graces were a part of a formal education. Those days are long gone, but basic manners still exist and are in sore need of being taught to our children. The trick is finding a realistic way to teach politeness that even our picky eaters and shy kids can use.

One important thing to realize is that there are different levels of politeness required of children, depending on the social formality of the event. If you teach your children manners on this simple scale, they will be prepared for anything. The basic level is for casual meals at home. The middle level is for dinners with company. The top level is for dinners at restaurants, and special holiday meals.

Another important step is to teach your children that the different levels of manners are cumulative. Meaning they all go together. So when you are at level 3, you are also following levels 1 and 2. This way they will always have at least the basics down, and being on especially good behavior will feel like a simple step up for them.

Level 1: Basic Table Manners

  • This is the flexible, functional day-in-day-out basic level of politeness.
  • No climbing on the table.
  • No throwing food.
  • Chew with your mouth closed.
  • For picky eaters: You must eat one bite of everything on your plate, but you don’t have to finish it.


Level 2: Good Table Manners

  • Stay at the table until you ask to be excused.
  • Clear your plate when you leave the table.
  • Use your silverware to eat everything except chicken and corn on the cob.
  • For picky eaters: No complaining about the foods you don’t like, simply set them on the side of your plate.

Level 3: Best Table Manners.

  • No elbows on the table.
  • Say “Please pass the…” whenever you need something you can’t reach.
  • Sit up straight in your chair without fidgeting.
  • For picky eaters: Say “No thank you.” when offered something that you are sure you would not like.

You always want to set your children up for success, and the more you break down goals into manageable chunks, the more there is to celebrate when they get it right. And don’t forget, the one rule to top them all is a good motivation for your kids to do their best.

And remember, you can always count on the one rule that tops them all:
Dessert is the reward for  minding your manners, at every level.

-Naomi Tripi

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