Eating Out With Young Children

 

by Calgary’s Child Magazine

Going out for dinner is the easiest way we know to tame the “What’s for Dinner” battle cry! A night out at a restaurant can be a big treat for everyone in the family, especially if it’s a new experience for your smaller children. We’ve heard many stories from families (the good, the bad and the ugly), about their restaurant experiences.

First, identify family-friendly restaurants in your area — does it have a children’s menu, high chairs, booster seats, and children’s activities available? What’s the noise level like? Is it easy to navigate through the tables to get to the bathroom? What’s the target demographic for the restaurant?

Before you even step out of the car, outline your expectations to your children about good restaurant behavior. Keep them simple. The use of inside voices, the importance of staying seated at the table (no running through the restaurant,) and good manners are three great rules to start.

Don’t hesitate to cut your dinner short and leave if your children don’t behave. It’s a shame to waste an evening out, but most restaurants are able to quickly pack up your leftovers so you can make a rapid exit. In our experience (depending on your children’s ages) you only need to leave halfway through dinner once and kids learn that you are serious about these expectations.

Breakfast and lunch are an ideal time to introduce your children to restaurants and teach them the rules. With lower prices, and faster service, it’s often easier to enjoy a successful outing. If you want to try eating dinner somewhere a little more upscale, consider going right when the restaurant opens for the evening (4 or 5pm, usually) to reduce the stress of long lines, noisy dining rooms and slow service. Food courts and buffets offer a large selection of food, making them excellent choices for picky eaters without the formality of table service.

If your kids get tired of chicken nuggets off the kids menu and want to try what you’re having, either split a larger portion or consider ordering off the appetizer menu. It’s a great opportunity to let them experience new flavors without committing to a jumbo entree.

Hungry children are not patient. Plan to go to the restaurant half an hour your child’s regular dinner time to reduce fussing. Bring some crackers or cereal along in a small baggie just in case the wait becomes too much to bear. If your child isn’t drinking from a regular cup yet, don’t forget to bring their sippy cup; wait staff are usually more than happy to refill it with water if you ask.

When you arrive, order the children’s food immediately even if you’re not ready yet to order yours yet. If the restaurant is busy, this will ensure yours child’s order gets in early. They’ll have lots of time to linger over dessert while you finish your main course.

Take along a coloring book, a small quiet toy to play with or a book to read at the table.  Some inventive parents we know pack a special restaurant bag with toys and treats that only comes out at the restaurant. Keep your children entertained with simple games, like ‘I Spy’ or tic-tac-toe with the sugar packets. Our children even polished up on math skills by learning to add creamers and sugar packets.

A trip to the bathroom can be a good distracting technique for a restless child. Try going after you order and before the food arrives — it might save a trip in the middle of the meal.

We always pack a washcloth or pre-packaged wipes to help cleanup during or after the meal; nobody wants to be the parent who leaves a disaster area behind. While messes happen, don’t forget to tip generously if cleanup will be more than usual and do what you can to demonstrate good social behavior to your kids by tidying up after yourselves a little on your way out.

With a little pre-planning, eating out with the kids can be a great way to expand their palates and teach them pro-social behavior in public. Bon appetit!