Our grandchildren range in age from almost one-and-a-half to just-turned six, all boys, and all in differing stages of learning appropriate behavior. We've enjoyed time together during the Christmas holidays. We’re watching—what a joy to be grandparents!—and observing as a normal meal becomes a teaching experience, sometimes accompanied by tears. Once in a while, a child gets carried out to chill while the rest of the family continues the meal. Some of the children enjoy eating. Some still find it a necessary evil. We see our own family mirrored in these adorable little people.
My husband thinks he’ll write a book entitled “The Happy Meal.” I figure I’ll settle for a blog post.
I highly value a meal with family. I believe it provides the perfect setting for teaching children.
- "No, you don’t bug your brother when he’s trying to eat."
- "You don’t hit your brother."
- "Don’t feed the dog while eating."
- "Sit nicely, and eat your food."
- "Enjoy eating what is set before you."
I believe every family faces some of the same challenges. Some children have texture issues. Some absolutely dislike certain foods. Others love everything and want to eat all day long. Every child needs to learn acceptable table behavior. It’s part of growing up.
In a few years, the “Happy Meal” will truly be happy. No one will turn up his nose or host a marathon eating session. Every child will sit nicely and not bug his brother. No one will feed the dog from the table. The kids won't show the contents of their mouths while chewing. All will have learned from very small what is acceptable. The training time will be over, and meals will be fun, nutritious family times around the table. They will be cherished in the years to come.
Do you have young children? Here are five tips for successful “Happy Meal” training:
- Be patient. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
- Be sensitive to each child’s needs. Some have genuine issues with textures. Learn which foods are problematic, and help your child with them. Be alert for food allergies, too. Also understand the capabilities of children at different ages. For example, our one-and-a-half year-old grandson isn’t yet able to handle the same rules or sit for the amount of time our six-year-old grandson can.
- Be consistent. What behaviors are permitted at your table? Which are not? Make sure the rules are the same every day.
- Be an example. Sadly, some parents are clueless when it comes to table manners. Their own parents didn’t teach them correct behavior. Even if you do know the rules, get a fun manners book for children, and read it with them. I personally like those that have drawings, so the children can visualize what is and is not acceptable. (It also reinforces what Mom and Dad say.) Make sure you model good behavior to them at every meal.
- Give thanks. Jesus gave thanks for food (Matthew 15:36; 26:27; and many others), and in the early church, they gave thanks for their food (Romans 14:6; 1 Corinthians 10:40, among others). The Lord’s Prayer gives us the model of thanking God for our daily bread (Luke 1:3). I believe that it is correct to thank God for our food—as a family and individually. It acknowledges the Giver and Provider.
The family meal plays an important part in family bonding. When God talked about blessings on the family, He compared the family unit to a house and said that the children would be like olive plants round about thy table (Psalm 128:3b). Teach your little ones, and you will enjoy happy family meals as they get older. You’ll be proud to take them to friends’ homes and out to restaurants.
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink,
or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
(1 Corinthians 10:31)