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Table Customs & Losing Weight
Not only is it important for children to learn proper table manners, but there's side benefits to doing so. It's vital, however, to let kids know that different cultures have different rules of conduct, and you can also learn a lot about a person by observing how they eat.
First, what constitutes correct table manners? Rule number one - the actual only rule that the others must stem from, is making others comfortable. See Table Manners a Delicate Subject? for an extreme example of this rule.
Second, one must do what one must to enjoy one's food and eat it safely. Eating something with your fingers is better than having it - and perhaps a lot more of what's on your plate - in your lap! Children especially should be allowed some leeway here. See Why Eat More Fish?
Third, what should children do if they see another person breaking a rule? First, they can keep silent. If it bothers them, they can avert their eyes. They might amuse themselves by thinking about why the person does what they do. Are they from another culture? Do they like to offend? Do they have a handicap? Were they (poor things) never taught good table manners?
For instance, when you see someone, usually a man, hunched over his food with his spoon or fork in a death grip, wolfing it down, it might mean the person likes to stay isolated from others. But it probably means he is from a culture where one had to eat quickly in order to get back to work as soon as possible while there was still daylight. Survival took precedence.
What does it mean if you see someone reaching across others and grabbing food? Maybe you're looking at a selfish person. But probably you're seeing someone who, at some extended time of their life, was served at a table where there was too little food to go around to satisfy everyone.
One thing that might amuse children is to find odd customs from different cultures. For instance, from what countries is it considered a compliment to the cook to burp loudly? From which culture does one only eat with the right hand, and why? Where do the men eat separately from the women? What foods are unmarried women forbidden to eat, and why? What piece of meat was reserved for pregnant women in some Native American hunting cultures? Don't tell them; let them look it up. It'll give them something to do in their spare time.
Some current North American table manners can actually help you digest your food better and lose weight:
Here's another great idea. In most Western countries, soup is served in shallow soup plates. One moves the soup spoon away from oneself, quietly and discreetly brushing the opposite edge to remove any drips, and leaning slightly forward to avoid "soup in lap syndrome", sips it from the spoon quietly.
In most Oriental countries, most sensibly, soup is served in small, high rounded bowls. One drinks the liquid and eats the solids with chopsticks, while holding the bowl in the area of the chin to avoid accidents. This is one reason meats and veggies are cut into long, thin pieces in most Oriental cooking; it makes it easier to pick up the food with the chopsticks. (The other reason is fuel conservation, an important factor in countries with more population than natural, replenishable fuel.) Belching is frequently encouraged, and even slurping, but we don't need to tell our kids that, do we?
It's not only fun to teach kids to eat with chopsticks, but practical, too. They may someday be in a position where they need to know how. Note: some children and adults may object to the rough disposable chopsticks. I do. You can buy inexpensive lacquered or plastic chopsticks at most oriental groceries and many other markets, although they do take a wee bit more skill to use. Let the children pick out their own. I have a beautiful lacquered set with mother-of-pearl inlay, and an ancient ivory set. Pick out a set of small deep bowls, too. Mine for special occasions (not for kids) are as thin as paper, burnt orange outside with gold and black designs, and white inside with a gold and orange decoration in the bottom. Our everyday ones were thick creamy stoneware with pink and green flowers, dishwasher safe. They don't even have to match. In some cultures each person is given a different kind of plate or bowl on purpose!
There's another benefit. It takes longer to eat with chopsticks, and anything that slows us down helps us eat a little less.
Unless you are skilled with their use, you may wish some instruction for yourself and your family. Here's some links:
Now, start on the Chicken Noodle Soup, Oriental Style or your favorite stir-fry. Be adventurous in your cooking and eating - it's the spice of life, and good for you, too.