Eating Out With Kids
Food on the floor. Kids running in circles and ducking under the table. The sound of screaming.
Is this the lot of those who attempt to eat out with their children?
It can be, and often is, but it doesn’t have to be. Going to restaurants with your family can be enjoyable, even fun. But it does take some forethought and preparation. The truth is that it won’t be like when it was just you and your spouse; it takes more planning, and infinitely more supplies- and patience. Nevertheless, if you keep a few things in mind, you can begin looking forward to meals out with your children.
It may already be too late for some, but if you have a new baby, don’t shy away from taking them out to eat. The best way to get your child used to the atmosphere of a restaurant: the noise, new people, different foods, table manners; is by taking them out to eat early and often.
Bring Along Supplies
As soon as your child is old enough to color (the major sign being when they stop eating their coloring utensils) bring along paper or a coloring book and crayons or colored pencils. Yes, many restaurants provide this, but they usually give your child two crayons and a paper that’s almost completely covered with cartoons. Bring along small toys that you know will keep your child entertained for short periods of time. For our three year old, a magnetic paper doll book works wonders. When waiting, simple games such as “I Spy” or “20 Questions” can take up time quite successfully. Also, take snacks such as dry cereal, crackers, or dried fruit that can be eaten while you’re waiting for your food to come. Don’t underestimate the power of snacks! Food is a great time-taker in our family. Lastly, save a special snack or toy for that pivotal moment when you need a trick to pull out of your hat. You’ll know when it’s time.
This is our restaurant lifesaver! Pull it out, and our three year old, Hope, claps with excitement.
If this is your first time going out to eat with your baby, or you haven’t been out very often with your toddler or child, bring along someone you trust to help you though the first few experiences. A grandparent may be helpful, or another set of parents you can watch for an example. They can hold your infant if you need help, give you an encouraging word at a needed moment, or just be another face for your child to look at. Moral support can go a long way in making dining out a positive experience.
This should be obvious to any parent, but don’t take your child out to eat when they are tired. If its naptime, a meal out is going to be miserable for everyone involved.
Additionally, if the food is taking a long time to come or your child is growing weary of being restrained in one spot; don’t be afraid to take a little walk. Go out to the lobby and take a look around or just go to the bathroom and wash your hands. A few minutes away from the table may be all your child needs to refocus.
Little Ones and Their Food
If you are eating out with an infant and breastfeed, consider whether or not you will be comfortable breastfeeding in public. If not, feed baby before you leave. Otherwise, be ready to nurse your baby in the restaurant, or have a bottle ready.
With young children, don’t plan on ordering an appetizer or dessert. Keep the meal brief and simple, and you raise the prospects of this being a positive event.
Make Use of High Chairs
Before having children, I overheard this advice from some dear friends: Seat your child in the restaurant’s high chair as long as they will possibly fit. This forces them to stay in one spot; and, if you start early as recommended in the first tip, you’ll train your child that meals at restaurants are to be eaten in one’s chair. The way to do this is by keeping in them in their chair for as long and as often as possible, as soon as they can sit up. Obviously, there are times when you need to take a baby out and comfort them or change a diaper, but do your best to keep them happy and entertained in their own seat. If you start this early, your child will just assume that this is the way going out to eat works.
If you are bottle-feeding, a formula dispenser is a must! Take the trouble and mess out of taking formula with you. Just add one section to a bottle ready with water- shake- and you're ready for baby.
The (Infamous) Kids’ Menu
Don’t limit yourself to the kids’ menu! At many restaurants, the options are limited, unhealthy, and oversized. (Many restaurants are working on this issue though, and offering healthier options.) Annette, mother of two young daughters, advises to consider ordering an appetizer or adult meal for two children to split. It’s often healthier- and more economical- than ordering two children’s meals. As far as toddlers, share with them off your own plate for as long as possible, just ask your server for an extra plate when ordering. Little ones don’t eat that much to begin with; and, let’s face it, we could all use some of the supersized portions restaurants offer scooped off of our plates.
Editor of Parents' Magazine on the Today Show
Timing Is Everything
Make sure you ask your server to bring the children’s meals out with the adults. This prevents the children from eating first and then getting out of control by the time your food arrives and they are finished eating. Accomplish the same purpose of keeping their hands occupied before the meal arrives by having snacks available as advised under Bring Along Supplies.
If Worse Comes to Worst
Don’t get yourself too worked up over the eating out experience, you do have an out. If things get too out of hand; ask your server for a box, pack up your food, and go. Add it to your list of learning experiences and tell yourself, “Next time will be better.”
Practice Makes Perfect
If your family is new to dining out with the kids, it may take a few tries before everyone learns what’s expected. But if you follow the above advice, and go with a good amount of humor and patience; I believe you can grow to love eating out with your children. Remember the other adage about practice, “If at first you don’t succeed; try, try again!”
Dining Out With Your Children from "It Mom"
What Do You Think?
Which do you think is the best kid-friendly restaurant?
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Don't be afraid to eat out at a restaurant with your toddler. We've got advice on how to handle whatever dining drama she dishes out.