At the Table!

By Annabel Karmel

Sometime around 18 months old, your child will begin to develop the skills, confidence, and understanding necessary to establish independent eating habits and, of course, table manners.

It can be a slow process, but with reassurance and guidance, your child will soon be a polite and self-sufficient regular at the family table. The truth is that table manners are not truly established until children are around five years old. You can however, gently make suggestions, so that he understands the basics.

For example, he has to stay at the table until he’s given permission to get down, and he shouldn’t talk with his mouth full. If you model the same behavior yourself, you are more likely to make an impression.

Rather than offering an unlimited mealtime, limit your child’s mealtime to 20 minutes, after which first courses are taken away, and, desserts (if appropriate) are offered. Also, try to eat as a family, so she can witness how other people behave at the table.

Ultimately, if she chooses to play rather than eat, she’ll be hungry—it won’t take her too long to learn that this gets her nowhere. Does your toddler have tantrums every night at the dinner table? The best way to cope with them is, very simply, by ignoring them. As with all tantrums, a child who gets no response will soon see hat he needs to adopt a better method. The main reason that toddlers choose to misbehave at mealtimes is because they know that they are bound to get a reaction.You care what they eat, and you mind if they don’t eat. What a better way to wield an emotional weapon than to hit you where it really hurts!

If mealtimes are devoid of emotional charge—in fact, pleasurable and fun—your toddler will not only enjoy them, but soon see that the tantrums have no impact, and, in fact, ruin the fun! If tantrums do start, lift him down, don’t offer and alternative meal, and try not to lose your temper. You can also help to diffuse the situation by offering some choices in advance, so he feels that he’s in control to some extent.

Your toddler may make quite a mess when he eats. The messes might be annoying, but it’s a short-term problem and it will soon be a thing of the past. To minimize the damage, try to keep servings small, and give him appropriately sized spoons and forks. Toddlers learn a great deal through experimentation, and they may want to squish food through their fingers, play with it, and use their hands for eating as they explore different tastes, textures, and methods of eating. Be patient and don’t assume he’s being deliberately messy as he learns to negotiate his food into his mouth; it takes time for fine motor skills to develop. When he spills food or upsets his bowl, gently set it right, and show him how to do it. A bowl with a suction cup at the bottom can help too. It is a different matter if he throws his bowl or food. In this case, remove him from the scene, and he’ll soon understand that it is unacceptable.Also, make sure his tummy is empty when he sits down to eat.

ANNABEL KARMEL is a leading children’s author who has written 17 bestselling books. She has frequently appeared on Regis and Kelly, The View, The Today Show, and The Early Show. First Meals and More: Your Questions Answered is available now in bookstores.

WHITE CHOCOLATE CRISPIE SQUARES These are so simple and easy, but I haven’t found anyone yet who doesn’t love this variation on an old favorite. They are great for parties too. They don’t take long to prepare and you can have a lot of fun making them with your child.


4oz white chocolate

7 tbsp unsalted butter

3 tbsp light corn syrup

Pinch of salt

3 ½ cups puffed rice cereal

6 tbsp rolled oats

½ cup chopped exotic dried fruits or chopped dried apricots


1. Break the chocolate into pieces and put in a large saucepan with the butter, corn syrup, and salt. Melt over low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the puffed rice cereal and oats. Fold in the dried fruits. If adding mini-marshmallows (see variations below), let the mixture cool down before folding these in.

2. Line an 8-inch square shallow baking pan with wax paper, cutting the paper large enough to extend above the sides of the pan.

3. Spoon the mixture into the pan and press down lightly with a potato masher or a spatula to level the surface. Cover and refrigerate to set. Cut into squares before serving. Store in the refrigerator. *Variations: Replace the exotic dried fruit or dried apricots with raisins, or omit the fruit and use 2/3 cup mini-marshmallows instead. For adults, I like to add ¼ cup chopped pecans.

Reprinted by arrangement with DK Publishing from First Meals & More: Your Questions Answered. Copyright © 2009 by DK Publishing. Text © 2009 by Annabel Karmel. All rights reserved