I’m Right, You’re Wrong: Dinner Time!

by Marinka on July 26, 2011

This is the second of four posts sponsored by Hillshire Farm.

When I was young and single and mortgage-free and had a body that no one thought was gestating, I spent no time at all planning meals.  There were summer days when my dinner consisted of a steamed artichoke, and yes, I would indeed look into its heart before eating it.  I was happy. I was young.  I was probably malnourished.

And then, the whole meeting the man of my dreams things happened.  And after he got the restraining order against me, I met Husbandrinka.  And we ordered out a lot.  We were both busy and who the hell had time to cook?

Becoming a mom was a culinary wake up call for me.  I knew that I wanted to make sure that my kids ate healthy foods and that we enjoyed our meals together. I wanted my children to have good eating habits.  And I knew early on that family meals was the way to do it.  We stopped take out.  We stopped going out to restaurants except on special occasions.  We ate at home.  Together.  As often as we could.

I had a few rules: No deep frying and no soda.  Otherwise, I was big on stews, soups, things I could make in big batches that would last several days.

But it doesn’t mean that things are always smooth.

My family is a blend of different cultures.  Russian, Italian, American, German, French and New Jersey.  Our dinner table is like the United Nations, but without Kruschev banging his shoe on the table. (Although we came dangerously close to that when I served fish pie one night.)

There are cultural clashes, even within our family.

Such as– when do we start eating?  When the food is served, and it is hot, as the Italians do? When the lady of the house starts to eat, as the French do? (An aside, when is the lady of this particular house not eating?)  When everyone has been served and are ready to eat, as the Germans do? Whenever the hell they want, as the Americans do? Hey, it’s in our Constitution.  And also our constitution.

So for this week’s I’m Right, You’re Wrong:


Dilemma: When you are dining with a group of people, when do you start eating?

Disagreers: Marinka and various members of her family.

Position One:  As soon as you are served! Food is hot!

Position Two: When everyone else has been served! Then we can all start together! Like in a race!

Position Three:  When the lady of the house starts to eat.  It is respectful to take our cues from her!

Position Four:  *burp* There are rules about this stuff?!

What say you?



Thank you to Hillshire Farm Social Twist for sponsoring this post.  Don’t forget to visit Hillshire Farm Facebook page where starting August 1st, you can download a coupon by watching a video, and if you share that link socially,  the value of the coupon will magically increase!



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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

KJ July 26, 2011 at 6:10 pm

When everybody has been served…and not even then if it’s fish pie again


Laurie July 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Well, in our very English/German household, we either eat after we say blessing. Which is sorta weird since none of us attend church. Ever. But it has turned into a superstition about getting a stomach ach. We’re weird.

OR, we can eat when everyone is sitting at the table. We don’t actually wait for the cook to start eating (although I think that is what Ms. Manners would tell you) but we do wait until everyone has been served.

My Mom was always very strict about table manners for when we ate dinner at the White House. I’m still waiting for my invitation.


July 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm

We have a blend of both Position One and Two. Though I would prefer it be Position Three. And the rest of my house likely root for Position Four.

In other words, we are a bunch of savages and avoiding eating with groups of other people at all costs.


pam July 26, 2011 at 6:51 pm

When everyone has been served and if at a dinner party when the host or hostess begins to eat errrrrr dine…


beyond July 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm

when everyone has been served. if you want to be extra fancy, someone says (and everyone else mumbles in reply) “bon apétit!” or “mahlzeit!” or something like that before taking the first bite. i’ve been trying to explain this to my husband for years. i’m european, he’s american.


July 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm

When everyone has been served. At least, this is my ideal — but, sadly, when he’s hungry, my husband begins to turn into Mr. Hyde, or maybe a wearwolf (I try not to pay attention), so as soon as food is before him, he starts to chow down so as to avoid this awful fate, and I can hardly argue, since I don’t like wearwolves or Mr. Hyde one single bit. But now my kid thinks it’s OK to start eating 20 minutes before his hard-working mother has a chance to sit down. And then, as soon as I do, it’s all “Mom, can I have more milk?” and “Mom, can you get the butter?” Argh. The French way starts to look better and better!


Roxanne July 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Position One.

Although there are only 2 people in my household (me & the kiddo). So I make him start eating as soon as I’ve put a plate in front of him and then I go get my own plate prepared.

And he still takes 400 hours to finish a small plate of food.


Bon July 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm

to some extent, it depends on the formality of the meal. when it’s us and the kids, we serve them and then gradually fetch the sundry extras they seem to want or we seem to have forgotten (though we are getting better, and at five the elder can be made to get his own stuff now) and then we eat. which works because we eat faster.

but the rule we pay lip service to, at least, and adhere to in fancier settings, is eat when all are served. unless my FIL is there. in which case he will be finished before anybody else has pretty much sat down.

…what does your family do about when to eat, in terms of TIME? we come from separate traditions on that front, and the Scots say 5:01 pm while the French lean towards midnight.


S.McCullough July 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm

First I must say I am happy I fell upon your blog. Great stuff!
We are most definitely position one. The grownup meals tend to be spicier or more complicated than my picky kids so they eat first.


Sue July 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm

This is easy, when the cook picks up her fork, so can everyone else. Period, THE END.


elenka July 26, 2011 at 8:42 pm

You eat way before everyone else if you’re the cook. You eat as you cook. You taste everything before serving. You drink wine as you are cooking. You drink wine when the meal is done and it’s not burnt to a crisp, just to celebrate.
And then, when a table makes it’s appearance, you can do whatever you want to cause you’re the boss.


July 26, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Everyone should be served, and the cook should be seated, before anyone eats. Nothing is more rude than people hungrily shoveling food into their pie-holes while the starving chef is still getting half the food served. Polite napkins in laps and conversation about how everyone’s day was are also requisite.

In real life, however, this ideal rarely occurs — though I will say that my ILDREN-CHAY have been well trained by preschool not to eat until everyone is served, while my USBAND-HAY (names disguised to protect the innocent) seems not to have been so trained. Ever.

I have found that appetizers go a long way towards ensuring the politeness model of eating. In my house, we call them crudites (insert French pronunciation here), and they involve a plate of fresh fruit and veggies.

I wish I knew what your position on this is.


July 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I don’t know who told you that Italians don’t wait for the woman of the house to sit down before eating, but I know it wasn’t an Italian man, ’cause he would not live to tell if he did. I mean, c’mon, you watch Mob Wives. Could you imagine one of them putting up with that shit? The food is put on the table, you say grace, then you grab and curse and yell and eat.


Sarah July 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I must have been brought up on another planet….family dinner and everyone is sitting around the table waiting to be served? Not a chance. If everyone is doing their part to get the table ready (setting the table, pouring drinks, getting condiments from the fridge, making side salads, carrying serving dishes to the table, etc.), everyone sits down at the same table, ask for the blessing of the food, and eats. After dinner is over, everyone clears and rinses their own dishes and then helps bring leftovers from the table to be put in storage containers. Dishes are washed and put away immediately (3 kids means one washes, one rinses, and one dries/puts dishes away….variations on the theme for other sized families, and boy are you lucky if you have a dishwasher), counters and table are wiped off, and only after it’s all done does mom excuse everyone to go do their own thing. The same was true of cleaning the house and everything else…..basic requirements for being a member of the family. She “kicked us out of the family” for a week once because we weren’t pulling our weight. We were given $10 allowance. With it we had to cook and pay for the food for all of our own meals ($2-$3 per meal), do all of our own laundry and pay laundromat prices for the privilege. We could make extra money by doing chores around the house (25 cents for cleaning the toilet, 10 cents for dusting the living room to her standards), and we had to have at least a zero balance in order to be let back in the family. The house probably was never so scrubbed, we never crossed her again, and never questioned helping with dinner.


Marie July 26, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Sarah, your mom is my idol. I wish I could have read this about 22 years ago when I had my first baby…


Sarah July 27, 2011 at 12:30 am

I think that she should write a book, “How to Raise Your Kids Without Ever Raising Your Voice.” As far as I can tell, it can be summed up with having a few principles (not specific arbitrary rules) that are non-negotiable and carefully pick what battles to fight. We were expected to be respectful and pull our weight with the family. Otherwise, if it wasn’t illegal, immoral, or life threatening, she wasn’t going to fight it. (Any property damage was repaired and/or paid for by the person responsible for it….windows are way more expensive than accidentally hitting the neighbors’ mailbox while learning to drive.) I just hope that I can be even half as effective as her.


July 26, 2011 at 11:51 pm

I heard that if everyone is served but one person, than it is proper etiquette to start eating. But isn’t that just extra sad for that one person? I would feel much better eating if two people didn’t have their food yet. Then at least they could talk to each other while everyone else’s mouth’s were full.


July 27, 2011 at 12:46 am

I start shoveling food into my mouth the moment I sit down, because I know I only have a few precious minutes before my toddler starts screeching to get down from his booster seat. … I’m not sure what everyone else at the table does, though, because I’m too busy stuffing my face.


July 27, 2011 at 4:29 am

Position two, minus the race. But growing up we observed rule number three except it was the eldest male of the family we checked for clues.


July 27, 2011 at 7:22 am

When everyone has their food – as I hate serving people. And no one eats the damn fish pie.


Louise July 27, 2011 at 7:32 am

In my house we have a mix of things – if we’re sitting in front of the TV we eat as soon as we’re served, but if we’re at the table having a family meal we must ask if we can start eating (usually only get a ‘yes’ in winter as otherwise the dinner’s cold in 30 seconds)


July 27, 2011 at 7:54 am

In our “house”, we begin eating dinner when the waitress/waiter has arrived with the food and places it on the table, and right after we knock over our chocolate milk in our haste to be the first to grab the ketchup for our fries. Or if you’re the quickest to get your Happy Meal open.


Dimity July 27, 2011 at 8:16 am

When everyone else is served, of course (says the British part of my family)…unless you are the first one to be served (at a restaurant) and everyone at the table barks at you to eat before your food gets cold (the Italian side)…or there’s always the occasion where the lady of the house (a.k.a. Italian mom), is still running around adding last minute touches, banging pots and pans, encouraging everyone else to start eating, at which point the table guiltily shifts the food around on their plate feeling incredibly rude (yet struggling not to eat the delicious food in front of them!) and hoping that she will join us soon. My, oh my, so many circumstances!


From Belgium July 27, 2011 at 8:36 am

Etiquette for the fancyswancy: as soon as the Lady of the House starts to eat
Etiquette for the fancyeveryday-y: as soon as everyone has been served
Etiquette for the mothers of small, hungry childeren: bang the pots on the table and let the pigs fend for themselves.


K July 27, 2011 at 9:36 am

Depends on the household. Growing up my mother had (and still has) an unusual hatred for serving food family style. To have a bowl of potatoes, a bowl of vegetables, etc., on the table where everyone serves themselves just grosses her out or something. She grew up in a very Italian household where 57 aunts and uncles were over for dinner every night and there was chaos and the women never sat down cause it was all “Make another pot of spaghetti, we’re still hungry.”

Anyhow, she made each plate individually and one by one we all got our plates and were told to eat before it got cold. She made her own plate last, of course. That’s how she wanted it, but still complained about it and would often quote from A Christmas Story “My mother hadn’t had a hot meal in 15 years…”

My sister and I sometimes wait for her but my Dad couldn’t care less and digs in. My sister yells at him for that sometimes but he’s flat out “Yeah, I don’t care.”


K July 27, 2011 at 9:52 am

Also, it’s difficult for me now to eat at a table that *is* family style. My boyfriend’s family is like this and I’m still not used to it. It just seems rude to interrupt the conversation with “CAN YOU PASS THE SPINACH???” They don’t think of it as interrupting, but I do. I just reach for the bowl myself, which I’m sure they think is the rude thing to do.


joeinvegas July 27, 2011 at 11:58 am

Either one or four. If food is in front of you then go for it.
The fancy restaurants around here kind of make it easy for you; a hoard of servers show up and everyone at the table has their plate put down in front of them at the same time.


July 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm

When everyone has been served. Though if your food is going to be delayed for some reason, it is polite to say “Please start without me” if those you are dining with are being polite enough to wait.


Sophie@Fabrications July 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I’m too hot and tired to think. I pick whatever is your opinion, Marinka. I do wonder what the awesome dude’s opinion is, though.


dusty earth mother July 27, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Because we are a combination of the Italian, Filipino and New Jersey cultures, we choose a combo platter of positions 1 and 4. And we say “Pass dose noodles”.


magpie July 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm

every single night, we sit down at the table and every single night, my child says “can i have something to drink?”

because every single night, we forget to get her a drink.

so no one starts at the same time, because someone has to go get her a glass of water. or milk. or something.

and then the ketchup. because we also always forget the ketchup.

oh, and the napkins.

clearly we are not civilized. or organized. or something.


July 27, 2011 at 9:51 pm

In my home, it’s position 2.
Usually, I dish out all the plates, youngest to oldest, and serve myself last. When my plate has been made, we hold hands, say Grace, and then all start eating at the same time.

If we’re having a family movie night (where we eat in the living room instead of at the table), then you can start eating as soon as you’ve been handed your place.


the mama bird diaries
July 27, 2011 at 10:57 pm

You should only eat cold food. Everyone eats whenever they get served.


Manda July 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm

I’m 27. I don’t have a family yet, just a live in boyfriend and a couple dogs. When at friends’ houses or when we all go out to eat its always been my experience that no one eats until everyone has food. In some cases those without food insist the others eat with the excuse that they feel guilty holding everyone up. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where any other custom applied.


July 29, 2011 at 11:47 am

I was always taught to wait until everyone was seated. And yes, I was raised by a German mother 🙂 I’d like to enforce that one when I have a family of my own. Even though my brother and I would always sneak food, it just seems like a nice respectful thing to teach the kids.


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