by Aarti Kapur Singh
Are you planning to step out with your little one for a proper meal at a restaurant? Scared of your last-time horrifying experience? Worry not! Here are 7 simple tips to enjoy eating out with kids!
Just because you have young children in tow doesn’t mean you have to fear eating out at a nice restaurant. Sure, kids can sometimes be unruly at mealtimes and they can make eating out less than relaxing for everyone in the dining room. But that does not mean you will not expose them to eating in public. How else do you expect them to learn how to conduct themselves in that situation? I can say by personal experience that taking your child to public places teaches them to socialize in environments that aren’t their own home. Children want to be in environments where they’re comfortable and at ease. The more kids are exposed to different things, the more they become engaged.
Learning how to act in different situations is important for children – it improves their confidence and helps them develop social skills – and proper restaurant behavior at a young age gets them off to a good start. Whether you have a toddler or an older child, see if she’s ready to begin eating out in a restaurant. Prepare her by trying some helpful techniques for a stress-free outing. But, most importantly, enjoy one other! That’s what eating out is all about. Just that. And, that someone else will be washing the dishes and clearing the table!
1. Feed your children before you go out:
Really. Don’t bring cranky-because-they’re-starving kids and expect them to be polite and sit quietly. A small snack beforehand or (especially for toddlers) at the table as you wait for your food to be served. Trail mix, fruit, dry cereal or a few crackers to halt the harbinger of hunger.
2. Go early:
Be among the first to arrive for the breakfast, lunch, or dinner hour and you’ll be seated and served more quickly. Quicker service means less “gap time” between ordering and food arrival or between courses – and less gap time means less time for your active preschooler to get rambunctious.
3. Choose where and when:
Choosing a time when you go for a meal is an essential. Stick to your child’s dinnertime. They’re little machines and they excel under structure. I suggest arriving at the restaurant 30 minutes before the time that your child eats. Most importantly, pick the right restaurant. Restaurants that are too quiet may not be the best choice. Choose a child-friendly restaurant, preferably one casual and loud enough to absorb any noise your family might make. Make a reservation if possible, so you don’t have to wait to be seated. If you’re new to eating out with kids, consider working your way gradually up the food chain by practicing good behavior in a basic burger joint, where manners matter less to those around you. Buffets are great for families with small children – kids like the wide selection, and everyone is walking around, so no one minds you walking around with your kids.
4. Pack a bag of tricks:
Bring a variety of things that could take the boredom out of waiting for the order to come to the table. Favorite books and (quiet) toys are great. If you know you’ll need to fill an hour, overestimate and bring two hours’ worth of goodies. If your child is especially energetic and restless, pack a couple of new, small toys that will hold his interest (at least until the food arrives).
5. Narrow down the choices:
Give kids two choices off the menu to choose between. Reading everything off the menu, or asking children they want, makes the decision of what to order daunting—for them and you.
6. Make friends with the staff:
Be considerate. The wait staff – who you may have been compelled to ask to rush the entrees, get more cheese for the pasta, trade the soda for a juice – need to be made friends with. Encourage your child to not make a mess. Address the staff politely. They’ll notice your efforts to minimize the extra service you’ll need, and they’ll notice any extra appreciation you show them. The next time you come in, this can easily translate into even better service. Most importantly, it is nicer.
7. Be real with behavior blowups:
Eating out with a young child will never be like eating out with adults. It’s not realistic to expect a 2-year-old to sit still, conversing quietly, for an hour. Instead, think of the meal as an opportunity to be engaged with your children. This can mean playing games, talking, reading, and, most likely, at least a little walking around. It’s reasonable to expect a preschooler to be fairly well behaved (in other words, not running around and screaming) if he’s entertained. Also, choose your battles carefully. A restaurant is not the place to get into an unnecessary confrontation with your child. Aspire to good basic behavior (staying fairly quiet and not disturbing other people) and reasonable manners, but let minor transgressions go rather than getting into a battle of wills that could spoil the whole evening.
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