Dining out with kids doesn’t have to be stressful. Going out to dinner at a sit down restaurant can be a fun family outing. Before heading out to a local restaurant, consider your family and child and try to choose eateries and times that will work best with their personality. If the unthinkable happens and your child throws a fit or chucks a French fry across the dining area; take heart – every parent has been there. It shouldn’t be the end of your dining adventures. Here are ten tips for eating out with young kids.
- Go over the rules before you go. By being clear about what you expect and how your child should act at the restaurant, they will work hard to meet your expectations. You can also practice proper dinner manners by doing a little role playing. Have your child invite a few stuffed animals or friends to a tea party or snack and then practice eating like you’re at a restaurant.
- Pick the right restaurant. Now’s not the time to try the hottest new gastro pub in town. Or maybe it is. Let’s face it kids can be picky eaters and you definitely want to visit a restaurant that has some kid friendly options that you know that they will like. At the same time, don’t be afraid to challenge their taste buds with some new foods that can make their dining experience truly unique. Let them taste foods off your plate or order something the whole family can sample.
- Timing is key. Plan to eat early so your tot isn’t overly tired or hungry – and it may help you avoid a long wait time too. You may not be hungry at 5:00, but account for the drive and your wait for the food – it may be 5:45 pm or later before you eat.
- Pick your table strategically. Do you have a busy kiddo that needs to move around and needs a little space? Are you potty training and need to be close to the restroom? If your child is in a high-chair, it may be wise to sit away from a high traffic area. A booth may be better for containing wiggly toddlers. Be sure to make a request to the host or hostess, by accommodating you they’re also ensuring a more pleasant experience for their other diners.
- Bring activities to keep them busy. Back in the day we used to keep a bag in the back of our car that had several entertaining activities for the kids. We would just leave it in the car and then we would bring it into restaurants with us. You can fill it with small coloring books, puzzles, games, small tubs of play-doh to keep kids occupied while they wait for food. You can also play games like “I Spy” or “Simon Says.”
- Bring a snack or order an appetizer. Consider ordering a kid-friendly appetizer as soon as you’re seated, or if the restaurant allows outside food, bring a small bag of carrots or crackers to take the edge off your kids’ hunger as they wait.
- Let your child order a special treat. Make the experience exciting for them. Ordering them a Shirley Temple or a special drink in a fancy glass will make them feel very special. Don’t forget dessert either.
- Respect your kids’ attention span. This may not be the time to try the newest hot spot that has a two hour wait. You may also want to order foods that can be cooked quickly, save the well done steak (which is a no-no with or without kids) for another time. Also, some restaurants will bring kids’ meals out first at your request.
- Take the night off. Eating out is supposed to be fun. Don’t spend the entire meal urging your kiddos to eat their vegetables, drink their milk, and finish their food. Neither of you will enjoy it.
- If the spaghetti flies, stay calm. Most kids are just looking for a reaction and when they get one, they escalate their behavior. If you can’t keep calm, you may need to remove yourself and your child to an area with fewer spectators. Remind your child that you expect them to have good manners while they’re in the restaurant and that there are consequences for their behavior.
What are your tips for eating out with young kids? Share them with us in the Comments below.