What a relief to discover families can still enjoy restaurants even with a toddler and an infant. No food prep, no dishes but smart ways to help the kids embrace food cultures too.. Along with getting them fed we also use this as a teaching and bonding experience. Hope these tips we have tested over the past few years will give you the courage to tackle the challenge of dining out with kids.
8 Tips for Eating Out with Kids
As working parents who enjoy good food that we don’t have the time or skills to cook means we take our kids to eat out almost every week even when we are not traveling. But managing a toddler along with an infant at eateries has its share of challenges. The right attitude and a little prepration can help parents keep up with their culinary adventures even with two young kids in tow.
1. Reservation means more than the time
Just like anything else, eating out with kids also requires some planning. It always helps to call ahead if the restaurant allows that.
When making a reservation, I request a corner table and possibly one that accommodates more than our party. It really helps to have a table for six for our family of four to ensure we can spread around without disturbing our neighbors.
Even when restaurants don’t offer reservations I call to make sure high chair or space for a stroller is available. Spending a few minutues online to learn about restaurant location and size can help you decide if it is the right fit for your kids. I realized a little too late that our littles ones were not yet suited for a community table dining experience.
2. Keep the kids’ dining schedule in mind
Arriving ahead of the kids’ regular meal times help to get them settled in and order before they start to get really hungry. I typically feed my infant daughter before I start eating so I don’t have to rush through my meal.
We also bring a few snacks to keep our toddler son satisfied if there happens to be any unforeseen delay.Another approach has been to come after the kids’ main meal times so they can order a snack instead of having a full meal.
3.Window seating can provide entertainment
This goes without saying when you’re traveling with kids. Even when we don’t plan to use electronics or toys, we always pack them incase of a meltdown. Our toddler is very high energy and hence having some tried and tested entertainment can help us if he gets very fussy.
Getting a window table where our son and look out or letting him play with the utensils has kept him happy on many occasions without the need for any reinforcements. Letting our son play with a few packets of sugar to make pretend tea is one of his favorite activities.
4. Let kids pick their meals
Letting kids make their own choice at restaurants will make eating out fun and empowering for them. You can nudge them towards balanced eating by sharing some of your greens and veggies if they opt for typically kid friendly high carb choices.
If you practice healthy eating at home it is very likely that the kids will choose familiar foods even when dining out. We also encourage our son’s healthy eating choices with an after meal reward such as a visit to the book store or dessert shop.
5. Make it a teaching opportunity
Eating is only a part of the dining out experience. The social component that goes along makes it a much more challenging experience for parents. For our son who was primarily cared for at home, restaurants were the first places of social interaction until he was 18 months.
It provided us a chance to teach about being respectful of other people’s space and using magic words when addressing the staff. We were also able to reinforce concepts such as indoor voice and quiet play which we had discussed at home in preparation for such visits.
Our son has had (and I’m sure he will continue to have) his share of meltdowns at restaurants. If he is crying and disturbing other guests we take him out of the spotlight and let him calm down before coming back to the table. This has been a test for us as parents and we take it in stride without being too hard on ourselves.
6. Embrace new cultures
Trying new foods is one of the easiest ways to experience new cultures without actually having to leave your locale. Getting kids to try different cuisines at a young age will help them develop a diverse palate that seeks and out enjoys new food as grown-ups.
We make it a point to have our son try at least a bite of new foods even when he chooses to order a more familiar option. We make it fun by pointing out the city/country that is native to the food and sharing some cultural tidbits that can make it a memorable experience for him.
While trying sushi for the first time, we told him how the food was native to Japan, the country where Hello Kitty (a cartoon character he recognizes) lives. It gave us the chance to introduce the concept of a different country to him. I was very happy to see our son attempt to eat with chop sticks despite many failed attempts.
7. Treasure the family time together
Dining out count as some of my favorite moments with my family. It is a chance for us to have a new experience together and enjoy each other’s company. While we all do love to Instagram our beautifully laid out meals and “check in” at the restaurant on social media, it is important to be present with each other. I love that I can focus my time on my husband and kids without the stress of meal prep and doing the dishes.
8. Start slow & be flexible
If you’ve gotten used to eating out a lot pre-kids, adjusting to taking them to restaurants will take some time and effort. We started with going to near by restaurants, where we were relatively close to home. Taking my daughter to her first restaurant at only six weeks meant that I kept her snuggled close to me in her baby carrier the whole time.
If the kids are having a particularly trying day, we are prepared to take the food to go. We also keep the meal relatively short by skipping appetizers or desserts.
Finding kid friendly or even kid themed restaurants along with places that we want to try has been a good way to mix the priorities and preferences of everyone in our family.Our son was fascinated to visit the Rain Forest Cafe with its jungle theme.
As we really enjoy dining out, it was a relief to realize that we didn’t have to give it up after having kids. It just that now we have to be more prepared and learn to be more flexible with our choices. But seeing our son try new foods that we enjoy makes the whole experience worth it.
What are some of your tips for getting kids to try new foods and keeping them calm when dining out?