Wedding Etiquette Forum

NWR: feeding young children

Here's an etiquette question I've been pondering.

My daughter can feed herself with her fingers pretty neatly. She doesn't throw food or smear it everywhere or drop it on the floor, but she doesn't use silverware yet.

When we go out to eat (usually casual/family-type places), I'll get an extra plate for her, and then we put cut up pieces of our food on there for her to feed herself. Sometimes, these are actual finger foods for adults such as sandwiches and fries or pizza, but sometimes it's things like chicken breast and roasted veggies or a chef's salad, things that we eat with silverware. For liquid/saucy items like soup or pasta, we feed her with a spoon.

So I wonder what actual etiquette is? Should we be feeding her everything? Does it change based on whether we are using our fingers? 


Re: NWR: feeding young children

  • Start the use of utensils.   By the time she's entering the toddler age of over 1 she should start using a spoon for things like yogurt.   Using a toddler fork will also start to work at that age. 

    Stick to lowest sauce items you can when going out or portion in small batches if you can.

    FWIW, we just opted not to go out with our kids too much because of the scene effect.   Now that they're 4 and 7, it's just easier.

    Also, an activity aside from food at the table can help some of the mess.   Stickers or a coloring book can be life savers.
  • I don’t think there is any hard and fast rule about what age kids need to be using utensils. There are so many developmental differences with fine vs gross motor skills, some 18m olds can use a spoon and fork and some 5 year olds are still having a hard time. I gave mine utensils early, would coach/help them with a few bits and then let them enjoy the rest of the meal in whatever way worked best for them. I don’t think etiquette demands you feed her everything. I think keeping it neat as possible and not causing a huge distraction to the other diners is all that is expected. No one should be noticing in there is a little one happily putting small bits of food in her mouth with her fingers.

    I loved going out to eat with my little ones at an early age, I think it prepared them well for what to expect in a restaurant. I think you are doing it right, stick mostly to casual family style places, if you go somewhere fancy do it when it is less busy/fancy lunch or brunch are great. Pick less messy things when out, help when you can but overall don’t make eating and eating out stressful. Make it an enjoyable social time.    


    MairePoppyILoveBeachMusicernursejshort+sassy
  • lovesclimbinglovesclimbing Alaska member
    Seventh Anniversary 2500 Comments 500 Love Its First Answer
    At the risk of sounding all "that's not what I asked!!!," I'm not really concerned with how she eats, I was more wondering if there's actual etiquette rules around this that anyone has ever heard of. 

    How we do it so far has been working fine, and we've gone out to eat a lot, and no one has side eyed us, haha. 

    While I agree in general about table manners with slightly older kids, @maine7mob, I'm not sure I agree for my daughter. She's only 16 months. I'm not willing to let her smear and drop stuff at a restaurant because she can't manage a spoon well yet, rather than just eat with her fingers or feed her myself. She has "better manners" in a way feeding herself with her fingers because she's not making a mess everywhere. 

    MobKaz
  • At the risk of sounding all "that's not what I asked!!!," I'm not really concerned with how she eats, I was more wondering if there's actual etiquette rules around this that anyone has ever heard of. 

    How we do it so far has been working fine, and we've gone out to eat a lot, and no one has side eyed us, haha. 

    While I agree in general about table manners with slightly older kids, @maine7mob, I'm not sure I agree for my daughter. She's only 16 months. I'm not willing to let her smear and drop stuff at a restaurant because she can't manage a spoon well yet, rather than just eat with her fingers or feed her myself. She has "better manners" in a way feeding herself with her fingers because she's not making a mess everywhere. 
    I think the overall point is that you need to use your discretion but the other part is that where you are you need to monitor how dirty your surroundings get more in a restaurant if you are less concerned in a baby-dirty home.

    My point on that is that if your DD likes meatballs, limit the sauce and give her smaller amounts so the sauce spray is decreased.   Use more paper napkins if you're at a place with cloth if possible.   If she's making a lot of noise and that's not the vibe of the place then get her out.   Those are the etiquette rules IMO.  
     
    If she's not old enough to use the utensils, don't let them be within reach even if she can use them to be a mini Ringo. 
    charlotte989875PrettyGirlLost
  • lovesclimbinglovesclimbing Alaska member
    Seventh Anniversary 2500 Comments 500 Love Its First Answer
    banana468 said:
    At the risk of sounding all "that's not what I asked!!!," I'm not really concerned with how she eats, I was more wondering if there's actual etiquette rules around this that anyone has ever heard of. 

    How we do it so far has been working fine, and we've gone out to eat a lot, and no one has side eyed us, haha. 

    While I agree in general about table manners with slightly older kids, @maine7mob, I'm not sure I agree for my daughter. She's only 16 months. I'm not willing to let her smear and drop stuff at a restaurant because she can't manage a spoon well yet, rather than just eat with her fingers or feed her myself. She has "better manners" in a way feeding herself with her fingers because she's not making a mess everywhere. 
    I think the overall point is that you need to use your discretion but the other part is that where you are you need to monitor how dirty your surroundings get more in a restaurant if you are less concerned in a baby-dirty home.

    My point on that is that if your DD likes meatballs, limit the sauce and give her smaller amounts so the sauce spray is decreased.   Use more paper napkins if you're at a place with cloth if possible.   If she's making a lot of noise and that's not the vibe of the place then get her out.   Those are the etiquette rules IMO.  
     
    If she's not old enough to use the utensils, don't let them be within reach even if she can use them to be a mini Ringo. 
    Oh I agree! In general, we're training her not to be messy. She's not allowed to drop food off the side of the table or her tray, for example. But with silverware, she'll probably do that by accident!

    With meatballs or saucy stuff, I would just feed her myself. 

    short+sassy
  • ShesSoColdShesSoCold bend over and I'll show ya mod
    Moderator 5000 Comments Fifth Anniversary 500 Love Its
    I agree with Charlotte.

    Although I don't know the actual formal etiquette rules (if there are any) on this, etiquette boiled down is just treating people well and with respect. Allowing your daughter to practice her motor skills and feed herself while not making a mess or ruckus sounds perfectly respectful to both the restaurant and others in it. 

    I think you're fine doing what you're doing. And if there IS some sort of etiquette rule about children eating, I'd think that the people who know them wouldn't be eating at the casual family restaurants you're bringing her to. 
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    charlotte989875MairePoppyahoywedding
  • If your kid is playing Frisbee with the plate - then there's an issue - but really, relax Momma!  Ask "What would my expectations be if this was my fourth child and we were in the same social situation?"  Introduce concepts as you can make them fun for the kid(s) to learn, but recognize, it's a learning process...

    She'll be using tools (spoons, chopsticks, forks, sporks, etc.) and eating chicken nuggets off the floor with the rest of the kids soon enough!  Like everything else, you do all the etiquette things as they're capable of at the age they are capable of "understanding"...  At this point, it's more important to be focused on a variety of foods than it is about anything else...
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    short+sassy
  • I think the etiquette of this is; is your child disturbing other guests, if she distributing/making more work for the servers, is she damaging the restaurant? If no, then you’re in the clear.

    As far as specifics of utensils? I’ve never heard anything other than making sure your child isn’t hurting someone (ie throwing them at someone), making a mess disproportionate to the restaurant (ie throwing food, flinging it off silverware, dropping it on purpose), and if she does you clean up after her/take her out/try and correct the behavior. Once she starts using utensils regularly and can manage on her own sure she should use utensils when appropriate. But IMO if her using utensils makes it messier, louder, more difficult for you, the servers, or other guests then skip the silverware and let her eat with her hands. 
    That's basically what we did.

    We also didn't take our kids to places with linens if we could help it.  Even now our dining with our kids is reserved for family type locations.    
    charlotte989875MesmrEwe
  • I agree that at 16 months, your daughter is too young for rules about table manners.  It doesn't sound as if you really have a problem. As long as you're reinforcing her good behavior and not making it difficult for other diners, you're on the right track. There is no etiquette about how young children should eat in public places. It's all about minimizing their impact on servers and other diners. I personally love seeing well-behaved young children in restaurants.

    There are some older adults who get really nasty to those who bring children to restaurants, but as long as your daughter isn't being disruptive, just ignore those people. I remember an evil crone who came up to me when my then-4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son were sitting quietly at our table, and she started telling me off for bringing them at all. She really was a type that we occasionally encountered throughout our child-rearing years. We began to call this sort of encounter a "Crone Attack."


    short+sassy
  • MairePoppyMairePoppy Connecticut mod
    Moderator Tenth Anniversary 5000 Comments 500 Love Its
    It sounds like you're doing a great job. Your daughter should eat whichever way is more efficient/neater. Give her cut up bits of food and supplement by spoon feeding her the stuff you can't cut up -mashed potatoes, soup etc... At home let her practice with a spoon until she can reliably get the food to her mouth most of the time. Then let her use her new skills in a restaurant. The first etiquette rules are learning to say some version of please/thank you. 
                       
    ernursejmaine7mob
  • lovesclimbinglovesclimbing Alaska member
    Seventh Anniversary 2500 Comments 500 Love Its First Answer
    edited October 2018
    Yea.  Thanks you all! I know there are technically rules about which fork to use and what kind of spoon is used for soup or tea or whatever. I read Miss Manners and there are little rules about how soup should be sipped from the side of the spoon (I think?) and all kinds of little details like that. So it made me curious if there are actual "rules" about how to feed a child. I certainly don't follow all those little rules or know them all, but I'd want to know if there were. And it probably wouldn't change what we do. If we ended up in a more formal setting, I'd probably just feed her myself no matter what it was, at least so I don't have to worry about her putting her hands on her nice clothes before I wipe them!

    ETA: I guess I should have been more clear that this was less a real world "I need advice" question and more a "here's an etiquette issue to ponder."

    ShesSoColdshort+sassyei34
  • Yea.  Thanks you all! I know there are technically rules about which fork to use and what kind of spoon is used for soup or tea or whatever. I read Miss Manners and there are little rules about how soup should be sipped from the side of the spoon (I think?) and all kinds of little details like that. So it made me curious if there are actual "rules" about how to feed a child. I certainly don't follow all those little rules or know them all, but I'd want to know if there were. And it probably wouldn't change what we do. If we ended up in a more formal setting, I'd probably just feed her myself no matter what it was, at least so I don't have to worry about her putting her hands on her nice clothes before I wipe them!

    ETA: I guess I should have been more clear that this was less a real world "I need advice" question and more a "here's an etiquette issue to ponder."


    One of the funnier/interesting things I read in Miss Manners was when she was talking about the silverware used in the late 1800's by the upper class.  It was an era where there were dozens of different utensils for very specific foods/tasks.

    And one of the primary goals of all of these utensils was very UN-gracious.  For people to show off that they knew what to do with each utensil.  And look down on those who did not.

    She ended her letter with something like "...but we do not need to worry about it nowadays.  Most of that extra silverware was melted down to pay for WWI."

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    MairePoppycharlotte989875
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