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Eating Etiquette

11 things your kids should know before they sit down to feast

A dropped fork or spilled beverage can happen to even the most poised parents – to say nothing of their kids. Even so, children older than age 5 should know a few basic rules of eating with others. Practice the ropes before your next holiday meal, inspired by James. B. Stenson’s ParentLeadership.com website.

1. Cover up. Place your napkin on your lap when you first take your seat.

2. Pardon you. If you have to leave the table during the meal, be sure to say, "Excuse me, please."

3. Keep it closed. Don't chew with your mouth open. That means not talking while there's grub in your mouth, too. In a similar vein, coach kids to chew quietly, versus chomping (your example helps!).

4. No elbows. Don't put your elbows on the table. Resting your forearms on the table is OK, but not the elbows. By some counts, this rule is rooted in practicality: In olden days, tables were often smaller. Today, it’s mostly just considered polite not to sprawl out – and, still, risk toppling something.

5. Flatware savvy. Know how to use your silverware. Work from the outside in. And while using it, don't noisily drag the utensils on across plate.

6. Taste first. Don't add salt or pepper to food before you've tasted it. It's more polite to the cook – and your kids'll get a taste of other seasonings, too!

7. Salt 'n pepper. If someone asks you to pass the salt, Miss Manners International recommends you offer the person the pepper, too. Others suggest passing along the pair, so they stay together (since folks may want both).

8. Three simple words. If something you need is out of easy reach, just politely ask someone to pass it to you. Say "please" and "thank you."

9. By name. If several people are talking at the table and you must ask someone to pass you something, say the person's name first in order to get his attention before you make your request: "Josh, would you please pass the bread?" Then, of course, say, "Thank you."

10. Upwards. Bring food to your mouth, not vice versa. Burying your face in your meal can make more of a mess (and it looks pretty piggy-like).

11. All clear. If there's food in your mouth, swallow it before taking a drink. If needed, dab off your lips, too, to avoid grimy marks on the glass – or, worse, unintended backwash.

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