What’s your family meal culture?

Every time when we have kids come eat with us, or when we eat out, there is bound to be some sort of culture shock to us. Here are some of the scenario that occur again and again:

1. Eating ahead of the elders.
In any culture, it is respectful to wait for the elders at the table to begin first. In many cultures, performing a short reflection or prayer before partaking one’s meal is the norm. This is to appreciate the food with humble gratitude and joy. In some cultures, the younger ones at the table will call upon every elder to partake the food before starting (even if there are ten adults at the table!). We still do this with our parents and other elders at the table. But sadly this is rarely practiced today.

2. Lack of table manners.
We have had to teach kids (and adults) basic table manners, such as:

i. Waiting for others to take their food first.
Very often, kids scramble ahead to eat without calling their parents or grandparents to eat. Ideally, we should wait for everyone to be seated first before we start our prayer or reflection on food.

ii. Asking politely using PLEASE and THANK YOU for others to pass something over.
This is not often practised as the kids stretch themselves to the max by criss-crossing other hands to reach their desired plate!

iii. Eating and chewing without making loud sounds.
Slurping, chomping, knawing, sawing, thumping, bumping, clinking, clanking …..they are noises to the ears, not music! Train them to eat mindfully so that the dining area does not resemble a food market! And their food gets to be digested properly.

iv. Not talking when the mouth is full.
This needs no lengthy elaboration but there will be kids (like one of mine – won’t reveal which one!) who would need constant and regular reminders, despite having been taught since little.

v. Not running back and forth from the meal table while eating.
Haven’t we seen this often enough! Kids running away, mommy chasing with bowl and spoon in hand, mealtime taking more than an hour to finish! If we instil the habit of sitting down together at the meal table, kids would learn this good habit very quickly.

vi. Asking permission when needing to leave the table.
Some kids eat so fast that before we could partake our first mouthful, the kid would have disappeared from the table! We have had to get the child to come back to just sit with everyone else until everyone has finished. Gradually the child realizes that eating too fast is not only bad for digestion, it is also no fun because one misses the flavours of the food.

vii. Saying “excuse me” if one burps inevitably.
Burpers usually have two issues: wind in the stomach and lack of body control! Whenever we admonish our child who burps excessively, her excuse would be, “but I can’t help myself!” We are hoping that one day she will realize this habit is an embarrassing one if done in public. Unfortunately she hangs out with a group of fellow Burpers! So, we are still working on this. One thing is for certain. We do not take this child to a fine dining restaurant!

viii. Thanking the host for the meal that is lovingly prepared or paid for.
Our children adopted the habit of thanking me for every meal that I prepared for them. And where did they get this habit from? Their dad! So it is important that daddies are not fussy eaters or complaining eaters. Otherwise, the kids would follow suit!

Cleaning up after meals.
Have you ever gone to a fast food restaurant and observed how much rubbish is left behind at the tables? No one bothers to throw away their paper boxes and cups, do they? Because that is the job of the waiters isn’t it? No! That is the duty of each person who eats there to put away their thrash! And we should teach our kids to practise this good habit. Why? Because it is just being civilized and cultured to do so.

Oh and one more thing: Not taking other people’s food! I often see kids with their big plate of food in front of them, but they take the food of their dad’s sitting next to them! And the poor dads (or moms) allow that to happen. Why? I wonder, should we allow our kids to invade our sacred space, and sacred food, when they have their own share. This is different from the spirit of sharing food where you offer your food to others to be shared. This is akin to food-robbing! We must teach them the importance of respect and restraint, starting at the meal table!

These little things are what differentiates First World citizens and Third World citizens. If we strive to be First World nations, we better start training our families to
practise First World habits at our meal tables! Otherwise we shall be forever lagging behind others who are more cultured and civilized than we are. Judging from what is happening around us in this country, we have a long road ahead of us. But I believe parents have the power to turn things around by making sure that we nurture thinking and caring citizens who can make positive changes for a brighter future!

What is your take on this?

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