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Eating Out with Kids: Benefits and Tips (Hubnugget Contest Winner)

Updated on April 10, 2012
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Eating out with the kids, especially when they are little, may not seem worth the effort. Images of babies screaming and throwing rice all over the floor, or toddlers running circles around the waiter, are often enough to keep many parents home.

I would argue that getting in the habit of eating out with your children has many benefits and, while not all meals out with small children will be blissful, the extra effort early on will have many payoffs down the road. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of eating healthy, nutritious home-cooked meals, but I do think that with a little preparation, eating out can be enjoyable for the whole family.

Benefits of eating out with your children:

  • Encourages trying new foods. By eating out, your kids will be exposed to new kinds of foods. Try a variety of restaurants (Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Indian) to expose your children to new ingredients, tastes, and textures. My kids' favorite meal is miso soup, seaweed salad, sushi, and shrimp shumai. Who would have guessed? Wherever we go, we give our children a taste of whatever we’re having and are often been surprised by what they like.
  • Trains your children in good restaurant habits. Starting to dine out while the kids are young and making it a regular habit (as regular as your wallet and lifestyle permit) will help get your children accustomed to eating out. They will start to understand what behavior is expected of them and this will make it easier, over time, to eat out with them when you want to.
  • Gives mom and dad a night off from cooking and clean up duty. Even the most avid home cook needs a night off here and there. Going out is a welcome break from the daily routine of cooking and is a special treat for the whole family!


Tips for making eating out a pleasant experience for the whole family:

  • Choose the right restaurant. Some restaurants, billed as “kid-friendly,” provide crayons, a kids’ menu, and lots of other understanding families. If this is your first venture out, choosing one of these restaurants might be wise. However, there is an increasingly wide range of restaurants that welcome families, especially if you arrive at the beginning of service (i.e., 5:30) before the full swing of the night begins. If unsure, call ahead and ask about how receptive the restaurant is to young children.
  • Be clear, firm, and reasonable about the rules of eating out. Let your children know that eating out is a special privilege and that they need to have “restaurant behavior." This means speaking in an inside voice, staying seated, and listening to you. Be firm about the rules, including the consequences of misbehavior. In our family, anyone misbehaving is immediately taken outside (during the winter in Boston, this can be a great deterrent!) At the same time, be reasonable: expecting an 18 month old to sit still for an hour long meal is not realistic. Going for a walk with your kids after you order but before the food arrives can help ensure that they will sit for at least part of the meal.

  • Pack a special restaurant toy bag (or lunch box!). Pack a couple of bags of toys that are reserved for use at restaurants. Kids love the opportunity to play with “new” toys. I always include a couple of picture books that they can flip through on their own, as well as a few crayons and some paper.
  • Feed your kids a healthy snack. Having a slightly hungry child will encourage trying new foods and eating a more robust dinner, but showing up to a restaurant with starving kids is a recipe for disaster. Take the edge off by giving them a piece of fruit or a cheese just before you go out or when you're sitting down.
  • Be kind and considerate to your waiter. Yes, the waiter is there to serve you, but be kind. What might seem like a normal order to you (pasta, but plain, with sauce on the side, but not if there are big chunks of tomatoes) may not be second nature to a waiter. If your child makes a huge mess, at least attempt to help clean it up. And, for heaven’s sake, leave a generous tip!

More tips:

  • More and more cities have restaurants that are kid-friendly, but also serve up healthy, wholesome, interesting fare for kids and grown-ups. Some otherwise fancy, upscale restaurants have also started having “family nights” or "family brunches" transforming into a kid-friendly spot, complete with a special kids menu, toys, and other kids' entertainment.
  • Choose restaurants that have healthy options for you and the kids. Just because you are eating out doesn’t mean you have to throw nutrition and healthy eating to the wind.

Eating out can be a special treat for the whole family. Taking a few precautionary measures and taking the time up front to get kids used to proper restaurant behavior can open up a whole new world of culinary exploration for you and your kids.

Pad Thai anyone?

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    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Great tips! I agree with your first 'pro sides' of eating out for sure. As long as they are the right ages to behave themselves and not drive other people at the restaurant crazy.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      I agree - being considerate of other diners is key. The sooner you start getting them used to dining out (starting at more kid-friendly restaurants) the sooner you can take them to a greater range of places and reduce the risk of bugging other people!

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

      This is a useful hub. I agree with you that it’s useful for kids to learn about eating out at an early age. Ours accompanied us to cafes as babies - so even though they didn’t ‘eat out’ at that age they got used to the experience and have always loved it. The first time my older daughter was in a restaurant she was less than 2 weeks old and slept through the whole experience!

      I think as long as parents follow 1, 3, 4 and 5 of your tips they are unlikely to need to use the first part of Number 2. At least that’s been our experience, but we generally did follow your suggestion to go for a walk around the restaurant while waiting for our order - even if just to the restrooms to wash hands. (Mirrors amuse small children for quite some time!)

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Melovy - thanks for your comments! I think you're absolutely right about not needed to use brute force with your kids if they are used to eating out and have some entertainment. :) It's amazing what interests kids in restaurants. A lot of Asian restaurants have fish tanks as well, which can provide lots of entertainment!

    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 5 years ago from Greece

      Eating out here in Greece during the summer is quite cheap and we have regularly taken our two out to eat since they were babies.

      I cannot stand it when I see young children running around a restaurant and it's even worse if the child has a parent chasing it trying to feed it!! There is no need for it.

      Your hub gives some good advice for parents taking their young children out to eat. I always had a tin of coloured pencils and a book for them to scribble in to help keep them occupied. It's always nice too, if someone comments on how well behaved your children are to let the children know how proud you are of their behaviour.

      Eating out with young children needn't be a nightmare, it can be an enjoyable experience for everyone as you have pointed out in your hub.

      Useful and socially shared.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Hi Debbie - thanks for your comments! Great tip to make sure to praise your children for their good behavior. Please have some moussaka for me. :)

    • poowool5 profile image

      poowool5 5 years ago from here in my house

      Hi LauraGT, like your tips. Nice hub, voted up! Started reading it with a view to adding a couple tips of my own, but you had it all covered! One thing I can add is that, with older kids, who still get bored waiting, (but you've ditched the toy bag by this age!) you can create a fun game out of ANYTHING with writing at the table (ketchup bottle, beer mat, sugar packet...) Give one kid 1 minute to study the item intently, then hide it and the another kid asks questions about it (what color is...what is the picture of...what country is mentioned? etc) Anything to make it to the food turning up, right? :)

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks Poowool5 - what a nice compliment! I like your suggestion. It is a more advanced version of a game we play - we place 4-5 objects on the table and then have them close their eyes. We take an object away. When they open their eyes they have to guess which one is gone!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Great tips and advice. I used to take my girls out when they were little. They learned real young to behave. Up and useful.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks KoffeeKlatch Gals. It definitely helps to start them young. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      This hub was just selected for this week's hubnugget contest. If you liked it, please vote for it here:

      http://hubpages.com/food

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Okay let's get the kids ready for a night out as we celebrate your Hubnuggets nomination!! Woohoooo... you can also read about this weeks Hubnuggets right here and vote too: https://hubpages.com/community/March-Madness-HubNu... Congratulations and enjoy eating out! :)

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks Ripplemaker! I'm packing up our dinner bag now! :)

    • Freedom4All profile image

      Freedom4All 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      I agree! We encourage manners at home,as well, so the kids are prepared to go out. Great to see other parents who encourage their children to try new and healthy food!

    • profile image

      Vicki 5 years ago

      I love your article, but unfortunately find eating out with my kids generally disagreeable. Come to think of it, I have the same experience eating at home with them. With a 5, 9 and 12 year old, each meal is an adventure. Still we continue dining out with them. And your article gets my vote.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Freedom4All: Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Vicki: Thanks! I hope it's a fun "adventure!"

    • teamrn profile image

      teamrn 5 years ago from Chicago

      I don't have children, but Laura, from this woman's perspective, there have been too many times when my husband have been out to a VERY unpleasant dinner when the kids are running around and their Mom and Dad are completely oblivious. We're both very understanding of the 'kids will be kids' but I think more parents (possibly older children, should take your 'class!). Excellent and well put together Hub. Vote up!

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Teamrn, thanks for reading and for your comment! Mmmm.... a class... I'll start working on the curriculum right now! :)

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      Excellent tips. The guidelines are important because if you don't have children and are sitting next to a table with unruly children it can spoil your meal. I always made my children behave, but I don't see that happening as much these days. Voted up and useful.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Hi Pamela, I agree. We are very strict when sitting at a "grown up" restaurant and very conscious of the adult-only tables around us. Thanks for commenting.

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks for all the votes everyone! This article won a hubnuggest awards with 28% of the vote (between 6 nominees). :)

    • veggie-mom profile image

      veggie-mom 5 years ago

      Congratulations on your hubnugget!

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks Veggie Mom! :)

    • farmloft profile image

      farmloft 5 years ago from Michigan

      Congrats on your Hubnugget award! Good info - especially that special restaurant bag of toys...

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks farmloft. Hope it comes in handy! :)

    • Tonipet profile image

      Tonette Fornillos 5 years ago from The City of Generals

      Hi Laura. Great info. I definitely agree that eating out with kids exposes them to new kinds of foods at the same time educating them with the right social manners and etiquette. Truly worth of a recommendation. Congrats to you. This is a very useful hub and a must-READ. Would love to link my "Classic Eating Manners" to this hub, if you don't mind. Thank you in advance and voted up!

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Tonipet, thanks! Of course you can link to it, and I will do the same. :)

    • Tonipet profile image

      Tonette Fornillos 5 years ago from The City of Generals

      Thank you too Laura. Looking forward to reading your lovely hubs for kids. Sounds fun and delicious :-)

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Irwin 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

      I agree with all this. Great ideas! I do enjoy eating out occasionally and my children are well behaved in restaurants...they know the drill. We practice good manners at our table at home too so that helps.

    • breathe2travel profile image

      breathe2travel 5 years ago from Gulf Coast, USA

      Another well written hub. I will share it on FB.

      Voted useful. :)

      Best regards~

    • LauraGT profile image
      Author

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Breathe2travel: Thanks, I'm glad you found it helpful!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      I have 2 little girls and thank you for a very informative and thorough hub about dining out with kids. Voted up and shared, thanks!!

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