You were likely that person one time…the person who (pre-kids) rolled their eyes at the family sitting next to you at a restaurant who appeared to lack any form of control over their kids. I remember thinking, “I will never take my kids out to eat” in my narrow-minded, pre-kid mind. Well fast forward 6 years and 3 babies and the thought of cooking dinner on a Friday night is somehow harder than having another baby, so out to eat we go. While I try not to mind what people think of me or my family while we are out to eat, I do want our family to be respectful of other diners and have compiled some tips for eating out with kids.
1. Start at Home
If your kids are not expected to sit at the table at home, they will assume the same applies when at a restaurant (insert mental picture of your kids running around tripping servers and spilling food). Set the expectation that, during dinner, they will sit at the table with the family. Even if they finish quickly or are refusing to eat (not that your kids ever do that). Leaving the table means you are finished with your meal. Once your kids are old enough to understand, have them ask to be excused once finished. We try to keep everyone at the table until all family members are finished eating. We use this time to discuss our day, review school papers, and talk about what we have tomorrow. By setting this standard at home, your kids will learn that the dinner table is not a bounce-house and that dinner time means sitting together as a family – and as a result, will be more likely to do the same when at a restaurant.
2. Set Expectations
For kids old enough, provide an explanation of where you are going and what you expect of them. Different restaurants require different levels of behavior – Chuck-E-Cheez vs. steak house. By the age of 2, kids are old enough to understand simple explanations. “We are going to a restaurant and you will need to
2. Come Prepared
Oh the treasures to be found at the bottom of Mom’s purse. I have a couple stable items I bring with me to restaurants . These items change along with the kids’ ages, but a handful of items have been in my bag since Baby 1. Disposable placemats are nice to have – especially when baby loves to chew on the table or drop plates off the side of the table. They eliminate the need for plates and give a clean area to eat off of. They can also provide a nice distraction for the older kids as they like to help peel and place the mats. High chair covers are also nice to pack along if you have the room. I have yet to find a high chair that I would be willing to lick, but all 3 babies have seemed to find them quite delicious and always end up chewing on the sides. Gag. In addition to the covers, I like to bring along sanitizing wipes which work well for the tables, chairs and hands. The older kids find this chore to be very exciting and love getting to wipe down their areas – as lame as that sounds, I am happy to give them the job. Snacks are sometimes needed. I hate feeding them snacks right before they are about to eat, but depending on your timing and the length of time it will take to get your meal, they are sometimes needed. Puffs, Mum Mums, crackers and chew sticks are all great items to pack along for the baby. Depending on the menu and age, you may need to pack baby food.
3. Be Realistic and Set Consequences.
Don’t expect your 2 year old to sit through a 4 course meal at Chateau Le’Fancy. Save your really nice meals for date night. Look ahead to see if where you are eating has a kids menu. This is indicative that they welcome families and will have a high chair if needed. If your children misbehave at a restaurant, set consequences for them such as not getting to go out to eat for a month or losing a privilege at home.
Bring plenty of distractions. Always. Some restaurants provide 3 crayons and a coloring place mat which are likely to entertain your child for 2 minutes. Now what to do with the rest of the 28 minutes until their food comes… Try bringing a special toy or activity that they only get to use at restaurants. Again, you will need to judge the activity based on the type of restaurant. Some ideas for older kids include: magnetic games & scenes, small playdohs, small figurines and activity books. Some ideas for younger kids include: toddler tote, quiet book, and baby iPhone.
And don’t forget tablets and phones. I will use these as a last resort to get the kids to sit if needed. I don’t love the idea of the kids assuming they get to use these whenever we are at a restaurant, so I do limit their use. I am sure this will change as the kids get older!
5. Is it too late?
Are you that chaotic family that everyone passes judgmental looks to at the restaurant? Do you desire to give your kids more self-control when out to eat? It is certainly not too late. For young babies, there is little you can do. Once they are able to sit in a high chair, begin instilling the ideas that they must sit in their chair. Use the above tips to help keep them in their chair. Once they are a little older, discuss with them your expectations and why it is important to you. Kids as young as 2 can understand simple explanations such as “We are going to a restaurant where you will need to sit nicely. I will bring you something to play with. If you act naughty, we will not go back”. This applies to home meals as well. Have the conversation on your new expectations during meal time – both home and at other restaurants and other homes. Explain your expected behavior and outline consequences. Be sure to offer lots of praise after they do well during a meal!
Hopefully some of these tips will provide you with a little more control and sanity when earring out with the family! Any tips you would like to share?