Eating Out With Children: Top Tips
Jan 22, 2015
Eating out with your family can be a joy and a pleasure. When your family consists of young children, however, those joys and pleasures can be hit and miss.
At home, we try to eat at the dinner table every night, as a family. We set the table with napkins, glasses, cutlery and plates. We ask each other about our day, and we encourage our children to use ‘eating out’ table manners even at home. Sure, we have the occasional slack night where we’ll eat pizza while watching a movie, or maybe we’ll eat separately while we’re running children to activities at different times of the evening. But we do our best to make dinner time a ‘together time’.
We love eating out with our children. It’s a break from cooking, and we love to try new foods that we wouldn’t cook at home. Our children have been eating out since they were babes in arms, and now at the ripe old ages of 11 and 7, it’s an absolute pleasure to take them out for dinner. We’ve all been to a restaurant where there are children running around and screaming, and an experience like that can leave you scarred for life and vowing never, ever to have that happen to you. So how do you ensure that taking your children out to eat is enjoyable, even if it’s only for a bowl of noodles on a Friday night when you’re too lazy to cook? Read on to find out my top tips on how to eat out happily with children:
1. First of all, start early with your children. Our children were eating out when they were still babes in arms. The first six months is the easiest time to take little ones out. Most of the time they’ll sleep, and maybe just need a bottle or breastfeed to keep them going. All you really need is a nappy bag and a place for your baby to sleep.
2. As they get older, you’ll need to be a little more prepared. New eaters will probably do better if they’re fed before you go out. Be sure to take a baby friendly snack or two so that they can eat at the table with everyone else. Your nappy bag is going to need bibs, spoons, training cups and something to wipe them down with! At this age, it’s definitely easier to phone ahead to make sure that there’s a highchair available, so you don’t have to try and eat your meal with a toddler on your lap.
3. Timing is key with going out for dinner with toddlers and young children. Sticking to the same timetable as home can be very helpful, although it may mean that you’re sitting in an empty restaurant at 5:30, and leaving at 7:00 when everyone else is just coming in. It’s worth it to avoid the starvation meltdowns. It also means that you can have them in bed at a reasonable time and not have an overtired and grumpy child the next day, too.
4. It’s a good idea to have a full bag of tricks to keep toddlers amused while you’re out. Even now, with an 11 year old and a 7 year old, I have tactics to keep them entertained while we’re waiting for food. We have word games to play, we take turns to tell each other about our day, and we’ll make up jokes to amuse each other. I have a ‘no electronics’ policy, because my thinking is that we go out for dinner to catch up with each other, but if electronics works for you – add it to your arsenal!
5. For younger children, a bag of toys that only comes out at restaurants or when you’re waiting for things like the doctor is a brilliant idea. A couple of small books, perhaps a car or two, colouring books – whatever is lightweight and is going to keep them occupied for a while. It’s also a good idea to carry children’s cutlery or children’s chopsticks in case the restaurant doesn’t have them, and perhaps even a training cup or plastic cup.
6. Wipes and a bib are essential, for cleanups on the go. Another useful idea is to take a small snack in case the food is slow in coming. Remember, even if you have a bad experience, and you’re the person with the screaming children in full meltdown, don’t despair! It’s happened to us all. Apologise to the staff, leave a tip, and try again another day.