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Dinner Conversations & Manners

Dinner Conversations & Manners

Parent Tips > Food, Catering & Restaurants > Dinner Conversations & Manners

Family Dinner Night

To encourage good table manners while making it fun, try having a special dinner night once a week where you do the following:

  • Everyone dresses in nice clothes
  • Have kids wash hands and faces 
  • Make a special meal and put it on the table where kids can practice serving themselves.
  • Set a nice table with all the silverware, placemats and cloth napkins
  • Tell the kids the ground rules: eat slowly, don't reach - ask to have things passed to you, napkins on lap, engage in conversation, chew with mouth closed, don't talk with food in your mouth
  • Don't answer the phone, just focus on the family dinner
  • Have the kids share their highs & lows from the week or a special story, etc. 

Dining Out with Kids

It helps when you start dining out with your kids to start with restaurants that are more family friendly and where you are not as invested in the meal. You can also practice at home with family meals and asking kids to stay at the table until everyone is finished. Tell the kids the rules when they are dining out as well as the consequences for poor behavior and make sure to follow through.


Pack a little bag that you leave in your car for times when you are dining out. Put in crayons, paper, Mad Libs, Wicky Stix, small books, playing cards, etc. (Small things that will keep your kids busy with out being noisy.) 


Have your kids run around or take a short walk for a few minutes before you sit down to burn off energy. 


Order right away so that kids are not to tired by the time the food arrives. You can always start with the kids meals while you have a glass of wine and then have the adult entrees brought while the kids enjoy dessert.

I enjoy family dinners...but it hasn't always been that way!

Submitted By: Susan True, Executive Director First 5 Santa Cruz County

"I enjoy family dinners...but it hasn't always been that way. My kids were picky eaters and we would end up fighting over what they would eat. I even made them each separate meals so they would eat something. I was stressed and wondering how much longer I would have to do this. Then I learned a few simple things from Triple P and now I make one nutritious meal that we all eat. Mealtimes have become a time to have conversations with my children instead of fighting with them". Triple P Parent


Mealtimes can provide great opportunities for families to connect and enjoy each others' company. But if children have a difficult time with eating or they are not behaving well during meals, this time becomes a ‘battle' for parents, who find themselves stressed out and frustrated. Common mealtime problems include refusing to come to the table, leaving the table during the meals, complaining about the food, refusing to feed themselves, playing with food, and eating very slowly.


If you are a parent who experiences these challenges with your child, you are not alone! There are several steps that parents can take to encourage positive mealtime behaviors. Here are some things you can try right away.


Establishing a daily mealtime routine can be very helpful for children. Serving three main meals and a morning and afternoon snack at regular times of the day will help your child separate mealtime and playtime. Also, setting a time limit for finishing up the meal, such as 20-30 minutes, and explaining that to your child ahead of time, will help keep him from getting bored and restless or disruptive.


Let your child know ahead of time when the meal will be ready. Giving your child a 5-10 minute time block to finish up their play will make it easier for them to come to the table.


Having everything prepared before seating your child at the table can prevent unnecessary waiting. Once he is seated at the table, remove any toys or other distractions.


Teaching new skills and recognizing your child's accomplishments around meals will help him become a healthy independent eater. Mealtimes present an opportunity for children to learn new skills and to recognize your child's growing competence. Model and Explain 1-2 mealtime skills that are important for your family. These skills should tell your child what to do rather than be rules of what not to do. For example:
• Eating with a spoon or fork
• Participating in family conversations and mealtime games
• Enjoying time at the table until the meal is over
• Developing specific manners that are important to your family (chewing with the mouth closed)
• Eating a variety of foods with different nutritional values


Parents may want to offer rewards for meal times that go smoothly. These rewards can be a special activity after mealtime or an extra bedtime story. As your child masters new mealtime skills, you can add a few more skills that you want him to learn. It is important that children don't become overwhelmed with too many new things at once and are given a chance to succeed. Pick your focus carefully and stick with it - without adding more - until the child succeeds.


It is common for mealtime problems to persist even when parents have tried these strategies. There are several other techniques to assist your child in developing good eating habits. Local accredited practitioners can assist in finding the best approach for your family. For more information on Triple P services please visit or contact Stephanie Bluford at (831) 465-2217.

Getting Kids to Talk

The younger the child, the simpler you want to make it. Dont ask yes/no questions. Instead of ""did you have a good day"", try ""what did you do today"". A fun thing to do is ask about something good and something bad about their day. We go around our table and everyone has to share their high and low for the day. We encourage our kids to ask about our day as well so that they also learn about listening to others.

Dinner Conversation
--submitted by Tar Stockton, Mind Your Manners
When we sit down for dinner, it is not just to “eat and run”. It can be one of the most sociable and delightful times! Ideally not hurried - but with the young set, it is going to be brief - expectations not too high.... If they understand that this is a time during which everyone can review the day, share some insight or experience, it will become a treasure, associated with pleasure and joy, (think of it as long-term investment...). Take a moment to review your own memories, and you might understand what I mean. If memories are not so sweet, then today is not too late to start dinner conversation traditions with your own family. Establish simple rules, for example, language: certain “potty” words are always unacceptable. Who talks when, and how? Interrupting should not be acceptable, no matter how exciting the story. I find it helpful to tell our son that it’s his turn after big brother’s. He’s content to wait, as long as he gets his promised turn!

Listen actively, because it satisfies the need to be heard, and causes less stridence. For the those inclined to short answers, or to shyness, ask open-ended questions,e.g.: “Which songs did you sing in preschool today?” Follow up with specific titles, colours, shapes,etc., to encourage “story-telling”. It’s really easy to to get the conversation rolling by repeating statements in the form of questions.

Table Manners

--Submitted by Tara Stockton, Mind Your Manners
Keep it simple for the very young. Remember, today is not too earlyto start. Since we no longer live in an age, where we eat at separate tablesfrom our children, it is up to parents to teach the basics. First, make it a rule, that fingers are not an option - ever. Even a one-year-old can handle a spoon. Where appropriate, e.g., cereal,encourage your little one to use it as much as possible. Cut pieces small enough to fit, and give praise for the effort made. Remember that they imitate you. For the two- to five-year-old set, kiddie forks can be added to the spoon. At that age, they hold tools in a fist - perfectly acceptable and appropriate. To minimize messes, I got into the habit of using alarge Tupperware lid. It has a rim, and spillsare contained. I also buy the cheap, striped, restaurant-style dish towels at Smart & Final, and pin the the narrow end around the neck with a large safety-pin. Since we switched from paper to cloth napkins a while ago (more economical and attractive), our son observes us and is in the habit of often wiping his mouth. I also remind him frequently that that’s what it’s there for. And, since little children constantly wipe their hands on their shirts, the large towelis a wonderful option: the shirt stays (half-way) decent, and the towel/napkin gets tossed into the laundry basket at the end of the day.

Posture at the Table

--Submitted by Tara Stockton
For up to three years, posture really is not an issue, since the youngest naturally assume an upright poise. Beginning at about three and up, when they are out of the high-chair and sitting at the table, you can start training them in those old rules.

You know - the ones which we’ve all heard from our mothers and fathers since time immemorial..... “Napkin in your lap/around your neck” (depending on the age. At around five, they stop using their shirts as a general-purpose rag....) “Sit straight” “Elbows off the table; hands on the table/in your lap” (depending on your personal preference. In my school, we teach European style). “Don’t lean on the table.” And my personal variation on the theme: “The food comes up to you, you don’t bend down to the food”

Consistency is the key and, in my opinion, a quiet gentle insistence that these are the expectations at every mealtime. Sometimes, for laughs, all of us put on the worst possible behaviour, because those admonitions do get old. But, in the end, you’ll be glad you did! Ask yourself: what is more pleasing? Do I want to be proud with my child(ren)’s behaviour at home and in public? If your answer is yes, then you already know what to do, don’t you....

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