By Child Psychologist Emma Kenny, Exclusively for Female First

Emma Kenny

Emma Kenny

Family mealtimes can be tough, right? Ads on TV usually show smiling families around a table tucking happily into their food, but for many parents I know (me included) mealtimes can be a battlefield. In fact, you only have to look at some of the threads on parent forums for an insight into what I call PMD (parental mealtime despair), including tantrums, food throwing and screens at the table.

So with all these family mealtime challenges, have table manners fallen by the wayside? Not at all, according to new research by Heinz Tomato Ketchup No Added Sugar & Salt, which found that two in three parents in the UK (64%) still believe good manners are important for their kids. Which brings me to my next question: what are good table manners in 2018?

Kids’ roles, not just at the dinner table, but in family life, have changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Many people my parents’ age still remember a time when the “seen but not heard” mantra was enforced during family meal times, and corporal punishment was in place at school. Just two generations ago the experience of being a kid was very different to what it is today.

These days kids tend to rule the roost at the family dinner table: meal times are arranged around their timings, dishes are selected with the kids’ health and nutrition in mind, not to mention allergies and intolerances, and when bored they’re usually given screens to keep them entertained. Yep, things have changed a lot!

That’s why I think table manners are more important than ever, to help keep family mealtimes special and enjoyable for everyone and avoid things descending into chaos. But I also believe that table manners need to reflect modern family mealtimes. That’s why I have created my new 6-rule, cut out and keep ‘Family Eatiquette’ to put the fun and enjoyment for all back into family mealtimes.

Emma's Family Eatiquette 

Rule 1: do a little job

Give your kids regular little jobs to do with the family mealtime, whether you involve them with the meal planning or task them with laying the table each day. Not only will they love the responsibility, but it will help you too. Make sure you give different jobs to different kids, to avoid any bickering, and allow them to get creative and do it their way!

Rule 2: help yourself

We literally tend to spoon feed our kids when they want nothing more than to show how grown up and independent they are. So, place dishes and sauces on the table that they can help themselves to, and encourage them to make their own decisions. The secret to making this rule work is only having dishes and sauces on the table that you approve of, like carrot sticks for example, or new Heinz Tomato Ketchup No Added Sugar & Salt, perfect to help put the fun back into family mealtimes.

Rule 3: no screens

There’s no harm in enforcing a strict “no screens at the table” rule. Eating together as a family is special - aside from being a bonding activity, it enables families to relax, unwind and catch up on the day. Ensuring there are no phones or TVs blaring in the background enables communication to thrive and makes for a much more positive and productive meal time experience.

Rule 4: try it once

Encourage kids to try new foods and tastes without piling on the pressure too much and turning it into something stressful. A great rule to have in place is to “try it once and then decide”. I can’t tell you how many times one of my kids has looked at food decided they didn’t like it, then tried it and loved it. But if they try it and still don’t like it, don’t push it. Accept their decision and move on. They’ve kept their side of the bargain and you should keep yours.

Rule 5: have fun

Parents feel so much pressure to create perfect eating environments and nutritious food for their kids, they can forget how important it is to make sure their kids just enjoy their food. Make meal times fun! Create funny faces with their dishes (ketchup squiggles are the best), encourage food play, make veggies more fun with dipping sauces and yes, have chips. If they’re active and have a balanced diet, chips are fine and part of being a kid.

Rule 6: may I leave the table?

Have a simple system in place that officially ends the meal time, versus little people just wandering off mid-meal. You might ask that the children say a simple “thank you for my lunch/dinner” and/or maybe they can ask if they can leave the table and not leaving before being granted permission. Ask them to carry something back with them when they leave the table, even if it’s just the salt and pepper. It’s all part of making sure meal times are seen as special family time.


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