Eating out with your child can be downright dreadful. Children can be unruly at mealtimes and they can make eating out less than relaxing for everyone involved. Hungry and overly tired children can be especially trying.
Lucky for my me and my husband, our son has always been a good dinner table participant, even when out in public. He is a very picky eater, so we are dealing with that, but he can get through a 45 minute to hour long dinner without too much trouble. Of course, we are always at the ready.
Here are a few of my go-to tips for successful dinners out with your children:
Bring along distractions.
You will most likely get crayons and a children’s menu to keep your little one busy, but chances are those won’t last long enough. I always bring along “Go Fish” and other card games, plus books and small toys to pass the time, too.
In addition, I never leave home without kid-friendly appetizers in the form of my son’s favorite snacks. Even though we order his meal shortly after being seated, he enjoys noshing a bit before the main course arrives at the table.
As a very last resort (typically so that we can finish our meals or much deserved cocktail uninterrupted), we pull out one of our iPhones and let our son go to town.
I know experts say going to a restaurant and popping in a DVD for your kids to watch, or handing over your phone or iPad to play with instead of teaching them to make polite conversation is something you’ll deeply regret in the long run, it does buy a few minutes of silence.
Go during “off hours”.
In other words, get used to joining senior citizens for the early bird special. Both you and your child will appreciate a quieter and less crowed restaurant.
Choose “kid-friendly” establishments.
Whether it’s a corner booth or a table in the center of the restaurant, chose an eating establishment that welcomes children, has a great atmosphere with lots to look at (great for a game of “I Spy”), perhaps music playing and allows for plenty of space to spread out.
Involve your child.
Review the children’s menu alongside your child, describing each dish and let them decide what they’d like to eat. Go as far as letting them order from the wait staff. This social interaction will help foster good manners and successful dining experiences in the future.
An interview from Parents.com sums it up perfectly:
“Most parents can gauge what their children can handle,” says Jessica Ritz, creator of Taster Tots LA (tastertotsla.com), a blog that lists child-friendly restaurants with adult-friendly food in Los Angeles. “By a certain age, some kids enjoy dining role-play too, like placing a cloth napkin in their laps.”
Mealtime is an important time of day for families to catch up, reconnect and enjoy a meal together. If your child does act up in a restaurant, do your best to calm him down. Most of your fellow diners have been in your shoes before and hopefully will understand.
If the fussiness turns into a full-blown meltdown, take your child outside for a walk and perhaps a talk. Sometimes a simple change of scenery does the trick.
Photo credit: Tetra Pak