12 tips for holiday dining

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It’s that time of year again—time for holiday dinners, parties, and end-of-year celebrations and social events. Even in the cold Minnesota weather, we are motivated to get out and join others for food, fun, and fellowship during the holiday season.

This is a time when we like to dress up and show off our holiday outfits. This is also an opportunity to show off our “best social skills and good manners.”

 But what of our children? Are they prepared? Have you taught them how to “dress up” their manners for holiday dinners and other special occasions? What better time than now to teach your children some basic “being a good guest” table manners and dining etiquette?

If you are not motivated to take time to teach your child these essential social skills, perhaps this little story will provide food for thought. A family had been invited to a friend’s home for dinner. The guests included a child and the guest’s child was “off the chain”—their words, not mine—at their home.

Now mind you, children were invited to the dinner. But the problem was that one child was so disruptive that everyone was uncomfortable. This is a situation where the family should have taken an early exit (believe me, I’m one of those parents who would’ve done just that) but they did not.

Here is a short list of some of the behaviors that the child was exhibiting: Talking loudly, grabbing food with their hands, talking with their mouth full, running through the house and jumping on furniture.

You might say, well these are things that children do when left to their own devices, and you’d be right about that. However, it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach their children good manners and appropriate behavior early on so that they and their children will be welcomed guests at any occasion.

Below, I’ve created a list—and checked it twice—of 12 tips to be mindful of at holiday gatherings.

  • Use proper greeting and introductions. It’s a sign of respect to greet your host upon arrival. If introductions are in order, teach your child how to introduce themselves. I’m a bit old school, so I believe that children should call adults “Mr. or Ms. /Mrs. Jones” unless told otherwise.
  • Pronounce names clearly and distinctly, and without attitude. If your child’s name is difficult to pronounce, teach them to slow down and be prepared to educate people about their name so that other people “get it.” If they and their parents agree on a shortened form of their name, that’s fine, just be clear about it. Here’s an example. “My name is Lakisha but I prefer to be called Kiki.”
  • Shake hands during introductions. This will not always be necessary, but I suggest starting early.  It’s definitely a confidence booster. In my etiquette classes, even the youngest participants who are four to five-years-old learn how to shake hands and introduce themselves.
  • Wait to be offered a seat. If a seat has been designated to you, even in someone’s home, take that seat without complaint.
  • Wait to be offered food or beverages. It’s a dinner, party, or social event; there will be food. If you are not quite sure when food will be served, eat a snack before leaving home. Once I went to a dinner party scheduled for a certain time, and I got there at the appointed time, and the food hadn’t been cooked! And, there were no appetizers. Graciously, I sipped on water and had a good conversation as the food was being prepared. 
  • Know when and how to use a napkin. No licking fingers.
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. I’m finding that many people, including “moi,” keep sanitizer on-hand (no pun). Even when going out to a restaurant, I make it a practice to go to the restroom either before I’m seated of after being shown my table to wash my hands.  
  • Wait to be served or for the food to be passed to you. Do not reach over another person’s food. Seriously.
  • If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. Just don’t call it gross.
  • Chew with your mouth closed and finish chewing before talking. Amen.
  • Prepare your child to talk with other people. Children should be prepared to talk about school, activities, friends, likes, dislikes, etc.
  • Thank the host. “Thank you” are still magic words. As you thank your host, prepare your child to say thank you, as well. AND, if possible, send a thank you note to the host, sponsor, or organizer of the event.

Bon Appétit and Happy Holidays!