Eating out with kids can be an adventure. As parents we believe from early on that children should be exposed to different social activities and that includes how to act while sitting down to eat both at home and at restaurants. We know full well how challenging it can be. Even to the point of just stopping it all together. The eating out…not eating. We do believe in feeding our children. Different ages can provide new challenges. So, we thought we’d share some tips we’ve learned and that help guide us!
1. LET’S BE REAL
Set yourself up for success and not failure. We understand Mom has been dying to try the newly opened Asian Fusion restaurant and Dad is craving Indian food, but be realistic about how your children are going to fit into the atmosphere of the restaurant and the type of food on the menu. We get it! Babysitters are expensive and time is precious. But take a moment to assess your expectations of your kids compared to the anticipated expectations of the planned restaurant and their other patrons. As much as we want ALL the world to love our children some restaurant business plans just don’t include spaghetti being flung by a toddler.
2. AVOID WHITE TABLE CLOTHS
Yeah…we just don’t go there. Maybe after 10 years of age it can be a fun and a great learning experience on fine dining. But we have a 20 month old that has a fascination with throwing forks. We aren’t about to take him to a place that has TWO in front of him.
3. EAT EARLY
When we go out with the kids we try and start dinner between 5 and 6pm. Restaurants are far less busy and quieter which seems to be calming to our kids. We all know the later it gets the less cooperative children can be as they grow tired.
4. MAKE RESERVATIONS
If it’s a place that takes reservations…make them and make them early. Waiting with kids in the bar area for a table to become available is just awkward! Littles waiting in line to eat is like watching the lions at the zoo right before feeding time. Except the zookeeper has no meat in the bucket…
5. SCOPE THE PLACE OUT
If it’s a new place call ahead and ask questions like do you have a kids menu, highchairs, and changing tables in the bathroom. Once again setting yourself up for success and giving you a good idea of the customers they are trying to attract. May seem like small things to dismiss, but how many of us have had to go all the way to the car or end up changing a baby on the floor of the bathroom covered with paper towels?
6. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Especially if you have a baby or younger toddler. Ask for a table near the bathroom or the exit in case the fuss gets to an uncomfortable level. One parent can easily take the little one out for a bit.
7. COME WELL EQUIPPED
We swear by these Table Topper disposable place mats! Easy on and off with pull tab adhesive strips. Not only do they make clean up easier, but they are fun for the kids and provide a distraction. We think restaurants appreciate them as well by showing them this isn’t our first rodeo and we have this under control! We also LOVE these Munchkin Miracle 360 sips cups for the younger ones. Almost completely spill and leak proof. Oh, and when you do go out without the kids one night and realize you still have one in your purse… it’s a riot to see how long it takes your friends to figure out how to drink from it!
8. QUESTION THE KIDS MENU
Here’s the thing. Some places with excellent food on the regular menu put junk on the kids menu. Most are filled with fried this and that OR….wait for it…mac’n cheese! Except the mac ‘n cheese shows up with green garnish on top which is like kryptonite to our six year old! Sometimes it’s better to order simple sides from the regular menu or just have the kids share from yours. When you do order from the kids menu be VERY specific like asking for PLAIN meat and bun only or no garnish. Also, feel free to ask for fruit or steam veggies in place of fries or chips if that’s important to you.
9. GET THEM INVOLVED
Make it fun for the kids to help make wise menu choices and what food goes well together. We also use the opportunity to help our kids become comfortable talking with adults by ordering themselves when they can!
10. BRING REINFORCEMENTS
Not people, but food. May seem ridiculous, but having some snacks on hand to help bridge the time between ordering and the plate being set in front of them is crucial. Just banana or some crackers will do!
You and your spouse may be starting with a salad, but request the kids’ meals come out early as well. One small danger in this is the fact that they may be done before your entrée even shows up. But hey, there has to be some element of danger in every adventure!
12. CHECK, PLEASE!
Umm…no. Not at the end of the meal, but as soon as your meal is served. Don’t worry, they will find a way to add that extra glass of zin or dessert if all goes well, but now you have full control of being able to pull the eject cord if things go sour. Nothing worse than being that family with the screaming kid and it takes longer to get the bill than it did to get the food.
13. SUCH A NICE FAMILY
No matter what – this is what you want the restaurant to say when you leave. Be considerate and do a little clean up before finishing. The servers expect to clean up the table after your meal, but maybe not the crushed cheerios on the floor and smashed banana in the high chair. Pull out your Black and Decker hand vac from the diaper bag…just kidding. Simply pick up the big stuff and use a couple baby wipes on the table and chairs. We try to do SOME clean up when needed and ALWAYS tip well. It shows respect to the server and the restaurant and teaches yours kids proper dining etiquette.
14. DO OVERS ARE ALLOWED
Don’t give up. We all have those days when we just feel like tearing open every single sugar packet and then projectile vomiting over the entire table and ourselves. And the kids also don’t always act perfectly at restaurants! Seriously, though. Be patient and use each experience as a teaching opportunity. Let older kids be dining mentors to the younger and don’t forget to be good example yourselves. Don’t stress about having to take a child outside for a while and then try again a few minutes later. We call it the reset button. Sometimes it works and sometimes we ask for everything to go and find a place to have a picnic!
We are still learning too! So, please comment with any of your own advice!
Eric and Alli