Etiquette is one of the important life skills we are regularly working on with our kids. In fact, table manners are some of earliest etiquette skills we teach our kids. However, once they are in middle school, it’s definitely time to move beyond the basics.
Remember though, keep it simple.
It’s important for older kids to understand that proper table manners make dining with them (and others) a pleasant experience, which is why they need to learn what is expected of them. Now is the time to let them practice these additional skills so they will feel comfortable using proper table manners when dining with other people, especially when you’re not there to correct them.
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So, what table manners should middle schoolers know (and use)?
Dining Etiquette for Middle School Kids
Do not bring your phone or other devices to the table with you. It’s rude to focus on your phone, essentially ignoring the friends and family who are sitting at the table with you.
You may suffer from separation anxiety, but no, you won’t die.
2. Retainer Etiquette
Don’t take out your retainer at the table. Period. Remove it prior to sitting down to eat. After you’re finished, don’t put it back in until you have left the table.
3. Chewing Gum
It belongs in the trash, not on the edge of your plate.
4. Napkins aren’t Just Decorations
Unfold it and put it on your lap when you sit down. Make a point to use it to wipe your mouth as you’re eating. Remember, sleeves should never take the place of a napkin.
5. What’s with the Silverware?
You should use both your knife and fork to cut your food instead of trying to saw though it with the side of a fork. When you are not using your fork and knife, place them on your plate in an upside down “V.”
Oh, and never use your silverware as a weapon – real or pretend.
6. Can I Reach it?
How far is too far to reach for food? If you can’t reach it with your arm straight out, leaning slightly forward, it’s too far. If someone has to lean back when you are reaching, it’s too far.
Instead, say “please pass the …”.
7. Passing Food
When passing platters of food, pass to your right. If someone starts passing platters the opposite way, just follow along. Just be polite.
Also, remember, it’s not a race. If the person next to you already has a platter in their hand, don’t make them hold another one. Be patient and wait for them to finish.
8. If it has a Handle…
Use it. If you’re passing around a dish with a handle, pass it with the handle out so the person can easily grasp it. Don’t make them grab the main part of the dish because it will be hot. That’s why it has a handle.
9. Leave Some for Everyone Else
When the food reaches you, take your helping, but make sure to leave enough for others. We know you’re a tween and you’re starving. You’re always starving. You can have seconds, or thirds. Just give everyone else a chance.
Also, when choosing your meat, take the piece close to you instead of rooting through the whole dish.
10. Wait for Everyone Else
Don’t start eating until everyone is seated and served, unless your host specifically tells you to begin.
11. Don’t Scarf it Down
Cut one or two small pieces of food at a time. It will keep things from getting cold, and limit the chance that you will scarf down your food.
Like I said before, it’s not a race.
12. Get Involved
Now that you’re older, you are expected to be an engaged, active participant during the meal. That means no slouching, excessive fidgeting, or grunting at people when they ask you a question.
Instead of just sitting there, take part in the conversations going on around the table.
13. If You Must Leave
If you need to leave the table before the meal is finished, ask to be excused. You don’t have to go into detail. The less we know, the better. Take care of your business and return to the table as soon as you’re able.
14. Please, No SeeFood
No one wants to see the food you’re eating. So please refrain from talking with your mouth full and chew with both your mouth and lips closed.
15. Keep Negative Comments to Yourself
There is a chance that you won’t like everything you’re served, but the polite thing to do is keep those negative comments to yourself. In fact, go out of your way to thank your hostess. She worked hard to make everything, regardless of what you thought of the meal.
If you truly have a food preference (like you’re gluten intolerant or vegan) it is polite to tell your host when you receive the invitation. If there are items on your plate that you can’t eat, quietly eat what you can.
16. No Rude Noises
You’d think it would go without saying, but… no burping, farting, slurping, etc.
17. When You’re Done
When you are finished eating, place your fork and knife together on the right side of your plate with the blade facing inward and the fork tines facing the top of the plate.
18. Save the Hygiene for the Bathroom
You’re beautiful just the way you are. Remember that the table is no place for combing your hair or reapplying make-up.
19. Take Time to Hang Out
Once you’re done eating, don’t run off never to be seen again. Sit. Talk. Relax.
20. Clean Up, Clean Up ….
After everyone is finished, help clean up. I know it’s boring. Everyone thinks it’s boring. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help. Welcome to adulthood.
Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list of table manners, just a good, basic starting point. By mastering theses, your middle schooler will be well on their way to being rock stars at the dinner table!