Manners Monday: Using Utensils

This week, for Manners Monday, we’re teaching our kids to kick the habit of using their hands to eat and to reach for utensils before reaching for a bite. Sure, for some foods it doesn’t matter like crackers or bread. But, in general, most foods should be eaten with utensils and the sooner we get our kids in the habit, the better off our lives (and table cloths) will be. We have been trying to incorporate utensils into our little one’s daily routine for months but he still leans heavily on his hands to do the dirty work. And I do mean “dirty” work. Whether it’s humus, yogurt, oatmeal or meat, this guy goes hands first and it is beyond messy. Of course, most sources say that you can’t expect your kids to eat well with utensils until they’re 5 or older so this week’s manner isn’t about perfection per se, it’s about habit and practice.

This week’s rule

Use utensils, not your hands

Put it into practice

Toddlers 1 – 3 years old:

These little monkeys are probably just starting to figure out how to use their hands so it’s best to start out simply. Put kid-friendly (aka small, not sharp) utensils at their place at the table when you serve a meal. While you’re eating together ask them to watch how you do it. They might try to copy you, they might just watch, they might throw the things on the floor. Don’t get too crazy about making them do it. Just try again at every meal, asking them to hold it like mommy does and to scoop or poke and guide it to their mouth. You can help them hold it and do the correct motion. A lot of kids like to flip the spoon over before it goes in the mouth which can be insanely messy. So, some guidance can be useful if they’ll let you do it. Celebrate even the smallest victories. Remind them that we eat this food with a fork or a spoon and not our hands. We don’t want to make our hands yucky at the table. Also, keep in mind that these kids are still learning how to pinch a.k.a. fine motor skills so giving them some finger friendly foods at every meal is good to practice. Just try to help them understand what a finger food is versus food we use utensils with.

Kids 3 – 9 years old:

As you know, I’m a big fan of turning learning into a game. That’s why I think that one of the best ways of teaching your kids to use utensils is to challenge each other to try to eat every single thing that you eat with a fork or a spoon. Yup, all of it; bread, crackers, pizza, cheeseburgers, sandwiches, apples, candy, you name it. Most of it will be easy but you’ll get some laughs and maybe some tears out of a few for sure. If it gets too crazy, just thank them for trying and let them pick it up. Of course, explain the game first along with why you’re doing it. Using utensils is proper, polite and when done well, neat. It’s respectful to not make a mess when you eat and using utensils helps you keep your hands, face and place at the table clean. With that said, it will take many, many, many attempts to be neat about it. I’m still working on my skills at 36! The point is that practicing and reaching for utensils before reaching for food is a habit that everyone should get into. It might even make you think more carefully about the food that you eat.

For older kids, you can teach them the different styles of using utensils and they can even help set the table. I’ll probably do a post about setting the table correctly later so I won’t get into that now. But for the styles of using utensils I think that teaching our kids to eat in the Continental Style is not just easier but also more cultured. If you don’t know how to do it I’ll explain it for ya. You start with your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right (hence why we set the table with the fork on the left and the knife on the right, aha!) and they stay there. No switching back and forth. To use the fork, you point the fork tines so that they curve over and downward instead of the typical down and out. This makes it easier to stab your food and bring it to your mouth in one fell swoop. See the video below for an example by a little boy.

Use Utensils Manners-monday

Here’s a pretty cool video of a little boy eating in the continental style; which I think is actually an easier way to eat because you’re not switching the fork and knife around for each bite.

Read all of the Monday Manners posts and teach your kids to be better people one week at a time.

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