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6 Simple Mealtime Rules for Kids

Having a few mealtime rules at the table can encourage pleasant family meals and prepare your child for social eating later on.

A reader inspired this post. She wrote about rules for kids at the table, stating that

The time spent at the table is like any other time in the day, it’s part of every day for every one, and thus it also has rules that need to be introduced to children slowly, taking into account their age and development.

I couldn’t agree more.

After all, we’re raising adults, and in the process, we need to teach kids how to operate in the world (nicely), as well as in our own home.

Dad and daughter sharing a meal in 6 simple mealtime rules for kids

6 Simple Mealtime Rules for Kids

I think all kids should learn manners and these simple rules will get you started:

1. Use polite requests and refusals

Children should learn how to politely ask for food, and refuse it. You can teach your child to verbalize their preferences with words like please, thank you, and no thank you.

We taught our children at a very young age to lead with “May I please have…” and “No thank you (with a smile).”

Now, as teenagers, they still use “May I please have…” when we go out to restaurants and even at home.

To me, these are basic, easy words that give kids the tools to nicely navigate the mealtime no matter where they are.

2. Chew with the mouth closed

For very young children, this will be a difficult task and it may take a few years for your child to master chewing and moving food around in his or her mouth while his lips are sealed.

Be patient while nudging your child toward the goal of chewing with his mouth closed.

3. Don’t talk with food in the mouth

This is an extension of the above mealtime rule. You and I know it’s no fun to converse with someone who has food falling out of their mouth while they speak.

{Yes, I’ve met some adults who haven’t mastered this simple eating manner—don’t let your child become one of them.}

Simply ask that they chew up their food before talking. And wait politely for them to do so.

4. Stay at the table until excused

There is value in teaching your child to wait for others to finish eating. Of course, you’ll need to be realistic with how long your child sits at the table waiting for others to finish.

Little ones can’t sit for a 30-minute meal, nor should they be made to. 

If your child is finished eating, but there are others who are still eating, have him sit for a few minutes out of respect. Engage him in conversation, and excuse him after a reasonable period or time or, if he’s older, when the other diners are done.

5. Use a napkin

It’s natural to want to wipe your child’s face if he is getting messy, but this is an easy task to teach. Your child may need some hands-on instruction, and some gentle reminders at the table, but in time, your child will learn how to wipe his own mouth and keep his fingers and hands clean.

6. Pass food around the table

Around the age of 5, children can start to pass platters and bowls of food to the person sitting next to them. When our kids were little, my husband and I situated ourselves strategically between the younger children so that we could help them, while our older children handled passing food on their own.

This approach is called family-style feeding.

These mealtime rules doesn’t need to be oppressive or negative for children. Quite the contrary.

Teaching simple manners helps children manage themselves while sending the message that they are capable human beings—an important developmental milestone for all children.

What mealtime rules do you have at the table?

Need More Help with Family Mealtime?

Check out our popular online workshop, Eat in Peace! Our brows our shop for other resources about child nutrition and feeding kids.

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