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“Fingers out of The Dip!” Potluck Manners for Kids

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Amarat Simonne, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Parents, we know you love, adore, and dote on your children. At the same time—admit it—they also probably have a few bad habits or problem behaviors that drive you crazy. One of my children (details withheld to protect the guilty) is a sweet, charming, intelligent child who also happens to have pretty bad table manners. Though we’re constantly working on it and issuing reminders, dinner isn’t always a pretty sight.

Kids and Food: Sometimes It’s a Mess!

Though I often find these habits embarrassing, I’ve also seen many other children engage in similar “gross” table manners or bad food hygiene. While this is one thing when it just affects the child, it becomes another matter when kids are in an environment where food is being shared, such as a buffet restaurant or a large potluck meal. Although children’s compliance and behavior are always a work in progress, it’s a good idea to pay a bit more attention on these occasions and remind kids of expectations. This way, we can hope that no illnesses will be spread.

So, what’s the first thing to do before your child approaches the buffet or potluck? You surely already know, but just in case…wash his or her hands! (And your own!)  Here’s some great child-friendly info on how to wash hands properly.  (Did you know that kids who wash their hands more often miss fewer days of school?)

Now, as your child gets ready to enjoy the meal, help him or her remember these key hygiene rules:

  1. Always use a clean serving utensil, never your own fork or spoon, to serve yourself. (Young children should be served by a parent.) And if a utensil falls in the food, don’t fish it out with your fingers! Get an adult to help.
  2. If you don’t see a utensil, use a napkin when taking an item (for instance, bread or fruit).
  3. If you come back to get more food, get a clean plate.
  4. Love to “dip”? Put some dippers and a scoop of dip on your plate instead of standing by the bowl and digging in. If you want more, come back later with a clean plate.
  5. Got a cold or allergies? Don’t share! Step well away from the food if you feel a cough or sneeze coming on. Then wash your hands!
  6. Was it so good that you forgot your manners and licked your fingers? Do you have chocolate or ketchup all over your hands? Go wash up again.
  7. Don’t let that plate sit out for a long time and come back to it! If cooked food, beverages, or cut fruits and veggies have been sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours, it’s time for them to go! Old, warm food can make you sick.

While your child probably won’t be able to remember all these rules at first, you can help him or her become a better party and potluck guest by continuing to offer gentle reminders at each event. And don’t forget  to be a good role model! Research shows that the example our parents set affects specific food safety decisions we make when we grow up.

With a little guidance, your child can be the life of the party. For more on kids and food safety, visit the resources in Further Reading.

Further Reading

Fight BAC! For kids–Fun activities for kids on safe food handling

The Scrub Club–More fun web-based games teaching kids the importance of hand-washing and food safety

Food Safety After School–from the USDA

Food Safety and Home, School, and When Eating Out--a coloring book for kids showing food safety principles


Food Standards Agency. (2014). Parents serve up their kids’ food hygiene habits. Retrieved from

North Dakota State University. (2011). Keep food safe at community dinners and potlucks. Retrieved from

Penuela, C., & Simonne, A. (2012). Keeping food safe: Special tips for potluck parties. Retrieved from

Photo Credits: Monkey Business Images Ltd/Monkey Business/Thinkstock