I don’t know about you but heading to a restaurant with young children can be a little anxiety provoking for me. When they were babies I used to bring everything but the kitchen sink with me to cope, but now that the boys are a little older I prefer to travel lighter. Over the summer I found that three strategies really helped me cope with creating a positive experience for eating out. If you are planning a little outing as a family after the first week back to school, I hope these are helpful for you!
1) Children tend to behave better once food arrives so the sooner you can get food in front of them, the better. There are two things that you can do in this area…
a) Look ahead at the children’s menu and order for your children as soon as you arrive at the restaurant.
b) Bring a small container of veggies and hummus with you for the children to enjoy before their meal comes. Some restaurants (like Tony Roma’s and Boston Pizza) provide veggies and dip but if they don’t, then this is a way to offer nutritious food while your kids wait.
2) Use the experience as a “teaching moment”. Talk to your children before going to the restaurant about your expectations for inside voices, manners at all times, and staying on their seat. Children like to know what is coming and what is expected…even if they need a few reminders along the way 😉.
Also, let your children use the napkins, utensils, and plates that are offered once they are old enough. This is great way for them to know that this is a unique and special experience which is a great reinforcement for those manners that we request on the way. Beyond the age of three a bib isn’t realistic, but messy hands and clothes are still very likely! My boys LOVE to use a napkin at restaurants, but I find they are hard to keep on them…leaving me with stained clothes and requesting way to many new napkins from our servers…anyone relate??? I was thrilled to find clips recently that can be used to hold a napkin in place around my boy’s necks or on their laps. The clips are meant for baby blankets but are perfect for this job too! They can be found here.
3) Don’t worry if your child does not finish all their food sometimes restaurant portions are enough for three toddler or preschooler meals! Allow for them to listen to their satiety cues and just take the rest home for another day. This is how we teach our children the art of not overeating….by never forcing them too. Also, you can order one meal per 2-3 children to save on money and food waste. If you do this and they are still hungry at the end of the meal, you can always offer fruit or an alternate healthy snack at home before bedtime.
I hope that these tips and ideas are helpful the next time that you head out with your crew. Eating out as a family is as much about the experience as it is about the food. And somehow with that perspective, it seems a little easier to handle !
Until next time, stay healthy!