Dining out with kids can be tricky. Really, really tricky. Whether it’s someone throwing a tantrum, someone running around and making too much noise, or someone getting bored, your family time at any restaurant can go from fun to stressful really quick.
While taking kids out can get really challenging, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare ALL the time. There are actually some tricks of the trade that you can remember. If you master these tricks, you can even make dining out with kids really fun and memorable.
1. Do your homework.
Before you even head out of the house, make sure you do your homework and pick the right establishment. This doesn’t mean you have to stick to fast food restaurants, but it does mean that you need to check if they have an available high chair, and if they’re used to family dining. It’s also good to check if the restaurant is family-friendly.
It would also be good to check if they have a children’s menu, or if there’s something in the menu that your children will eat. Another tip is to actually plan what you’re getting, to save time. The last thing you need is an impatient child with a grumbling stomach.
2. Speak to your children beforehand.
You’ll be surprised what a serious one-on-one conversation can do to set your kids straight. Kids may be kids but if you talk to them like adults and really impress upon them that dining out is serious business, they’ll listen.
When you speak with your children, be firm about good manners and ‘restaurant rules’, and let them know that this is what you expect of them. This will also turn every dine-out experience into something extra special, something they’ll look forward to each time.
3. Make reservations and eat earlier.
Make prior reservations, explain the situation, and ask the restaurant if they can give you a corner table or an area that’s less conspicuous. If you can get a booth, that’s even more ideal so that your kids can be more free to move around. This is also your chance to reserve a high chair if needed.
While you’re at it, you may also ask the restaurant when their peak times are and arrange to go earlier. The less busy the restaurant is, the faster you will be seated and served, and the faster you’ll be finished.
4. Cut down on the sugar.
Most children love sweet treats, but the only thing worse than an overly bored child is a hyperactive one. As much as possible, don’t order fruit juice (or worse, soda) when you’re eating out. This will only add to your child’s sugar intake and hyperactivity. If you really have to, reserve it for a sweet dessert treat in the end like some vanilla ice cream.
5. Ban the gadgets and encourage conversation.
There’s nothing more disrespectful than everyone busy playing with their gadgets instead of focusing on eating and actually interacting with one other. Train your kids early by banning gadgets, not just in the dinner table but even when you eat out. This also teaches your kids (and yourself) that there are more productive things to do than just staring at screens.
We know this is easier said than done, and that you’ll want some sort of distraction for your kids especially in a public place like a restaurant. Which is why you should…
6. Bring your own bag of tricks.
Pack your own distractions. Bring a special bag with crayons and paper, a small book, or even small toys that they can be distracted with while waiting. You can even make it a rule that they only get to play with the items inside this ‘special bag’ every time you eat out, so they get excited. You can also switch up the contents so that it’s a surprise each time.
7. Ask for smaller plates.
No matter how many kids you have and what you’re planning to order, it’s still best to ask for smaller plates so that you can cool down smaller portions easier. There are kids’ meals available in some restaurants, and these already come in kid-friendly portions, but it’s still faster to cool down a few strands of spaghetti compared to a full plate.
8. Model good manners.
Dining out is also the perfect time to teach children about good manners. Yes you could have a conversation with them beforehand, but it’s more effective if you actually get to show them yourself and model these manners for them. You can teach by example and show them how to be polite to the servers, say please and thank you, and even the proper etiquette of using the cutlery.