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Raising a Polite Dinner Guest

When your child's eating dinner at a friend's house (and you're not around to monitor manners), here's how to make sure she's still a gracious guest:

Communicate with the cook 

If your child has a dietary restriction, call ahead to alert the host family whenever possible, says Leah Ingram, author of The Everything Etiquette Book. You could simply say, "I thought you should know that our family's vegetarian, so Tammy doesn't eat any meat." Make sure to give a few examples of foods she can eat—and if her diet is particularly hard to accommodate, send a plate of food.

Prep your child 

If you can't call ahead, at least practice a "script" with your child for politely refusing a food she can't (or really doesn't want to) eat. For instance, she could say, "I'm allergic to corn, but I'd love some of that broccoli!"

Establish the "try at least one bite" rule 

In case your child is offered an unfamiliar food. And warn her that she'll have to make do with what's been served unless her hosts offer an alternative. "I tell my daughters that they can't demand cereal if they don't like the meal. They can always eat again when they're back home," says Ingram.

Remind your child to say thank you 

Ask her to find one thing about the meal to compliment, even if she was less than thrilled with the rest of the spread.

If you're the host

  • Consider making more than two side dishes so even choosy kids can find something they like.
  • Try not to take it personally if your child's pal says "No, thanks" to your famous potatoes au gratin. Many children have a hard time with unfamiliar tastes and textures.
  • But don't be a short-order cook. "My attitude is, 'This is what I've made. Choose what you like,'" says Leah Ingram. If you're really afraid a guest will go hungry, offer a small snack, like a yogurt cup.