3 School Cafeteria Etiquette Rules Every Kid Should Know

3 School Cafeteria Etiquette Rules that Every Kid Should KnowThe school cafeteria is a fascinating place. For some, it’s the best time of the school day. For others, it’s a migraine headache waiting to happen. It’s where your child gets to work out social situations and learn to make healthy food choices. It’s been a topic of discussion in many a parent meeting. But why?

Well, every parent wants to have Polite Kids. (That is, I’ve yet to meet the parent who says, That kindness thing is fine and all, but it’s not for us.But when they’re out from under your watchful eye, it’s easy to wonder… do they know how to act? How to be responsible and treat others with respect?

So bottom line: What’s your best shot at having a polite child at school? Well, you could become her shadow or you could do something far easier: start at home.

That’s right. Modeling and teaching table manners at home actually works! So here’s what you should do:

Cafeteria Kindness for Kids

I know we talk about kindness a lot here. But it’s super-important, so it’s worth mentioning often, both on our blog and in your home. In fact, the core of our Polite Kids 101 program is showing kindness to other people. Everything goes back to that, because kindness is really what good manners are all about!

Think about it: Why do we even care about “proper etiquette?” It’s not because following the rules makes us look better in public. (But hey, that’s a nice perk, too!) We care about etiquette rules because they are our guidelines for showing basic kindness to other people — respecting them as individuals and honoring them for who they are.

Now, I’m not talking about your child packing a table cloth and candelabra and full table setting to school. There’s no bowing or curtsying involved. Promise.

In the school cafeteria, this looks like:

1. Treating Cafeteria Employees with Respect

You can tell a lot about your child’s character in how he treats the cafeteria employees. The “lunch lady” may have a reputation that precedes her, but this doesn’t mean your child should treat her unkindly. A simple please or thank you goes a long way. Remind your child that these workers aren’t his servants and he should respect all adults, especially those wearing a hair net.

2. Obeying Cafeteria Rules

Hopefully your child’s school makes school cafeteria expectations clear. Tell your child to look for rules posted on the cafeteria walls so he or she knows what’s expected in the cafeteria. Guidelines may also be outlined by teachers or cafeteria monitors at the beginning of the year.

What should you reinforce at home? Cafeteria rules often include volume restrictions, because, let’s face it: cafeterias can be very noisy places! Hundreds of happy, re-energized children are suddenly multiplied by 1000 db. (God bless the cafeteria monitors. Amen.) This is one of the few times kids get to socialize during the school day, but you should remind your child to be low key.

Tell them that if everyone speaks at full volume, the cafeteria workers may be forced to make it a “quiet lunch,” which is really no fun for anyone. If everyone does his part by enjoying the time to converse with friends without adding to the chaos by yelling or screaming, the world will be a much happier place. Okay, the lunch room will be a much happier place, but still. That’s basically the same thing.

And it’s worth noting that in many schools, the teachers rotate cafeteria monitoring responsibilities. Please remind your child that these teachers are sacrificing their typical lunch break peace and quiet to help during meal time… so students can at least afford to treat them with a little respect! (Don’t make me burst out singing R-E-S-P-E-C-T Aretha-style. I am not afraid to do so.)

3. Cleaning Up Your Own Mess

This one is brilliant because it works everywhere: at home, when you’re dining out at a restaurant with your family, and yes, in the school cafeteria. Teach your child to clear his trash away and wipe up any mess he might have (probably) made. (My kids practically turn into Cookie Monster at the table. What’s up with that!?)

The secret with this one? Well, there is no secret. But you should practice, practice, practice with your child. I still have to remind my 6-year-old to clear his dishes often, but I do so with the hope that he will remember to do this more and more as he grows — and yes, do it at school as well.

What’s the kindness spin here? Well, cleaning up after yourself shows respect and kindness to the school staff who would have to clean up extra mess otherwise. Some schools even share the table-wiping responsibility with the kids, which I think is a brilliant move toward teaching kids to live with awareness for others and the worlds around them. (I mean, in some Japanese schools, students are responsible for cleaning up everything at the school. That seems like real-world prep to me!)

I still remember the cafeteria ladies in my elementary school. They were firm but friendly, understanding their jobs beyond pre-heating ovens and ordering enough chicken tenders for the month. They always put the children first.

If you haven’t been to the cafeteria in a while, I encourage you to find out if your child’s school allows parent visitors at lunchtime. If so, go eat with your child! You’ll get a glimpse into her day and be able to reinforce the rules more easily at home.

So this back-to-school season, as you’re getting school supplies and figuring out lunch box ideas, don’t forget to talk a little with your child about how she should behave in the classroom. Her attitude really can make all the difference!

(Shared at Way Back Wednesday)

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About Aubrey Hunt
Before hopping on the crazy ride we call motherhood, I studied engineering and taught math and science to middle and high school students. Now, perhaps like you, I fill my days singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider and praying my preschooler will eat a vegetable — any vegetable!

2 thoughts on “3 School Cafeteria Etiquette Rules Every Kid Should Know”

  1. As a kid I think eating lunch with a parent would be a little and weird and you could be made fun of

    1. Aubrey Hunt says:

      I’m sorry you feel that way! In some schools it’s quite common — and even an honor to be invited to eat at the “guest table” with your parents at lunch. I suppose it depends on the school and environment… to each his own! 😉

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