Tips For Eating Out With Kids
To Actually Enjoy Your Time
Eating out with kids can be great but it can also be a disaster here is how to avoid the chaos. When I was young going out to a restaurant was a big deal, it didn’t happen very often, and when it did, it was a huge treat. My dad has celiac disease (and can’t eat gluten) which was hard back then to eat out, and we didn’t have a ton of money growing up. So eating out was never really an option.
Now it seems that people are eating out more and more (myself included). It seems like it is the “go to” for date nights, first dates, or family outings. But doing so with tiny little humans with you can sometimes ruin the experience if you aren’t prepared. One of my least favourite things is that we go out, spend the money, and the kids don’t eat, or are miserable at the table and the entire experience is ruined and wasted.
So we (over the years) have figured out what the best way to entertain them as you wait for your food. I’m not saying my kids are always perfect at restaurants – far from it, but most of the time, they are well behaved and these are some tips that I find work great .
First Things First – Get Organized
Find something that is easy to carry (for the kid) and that they like (we chose two backpacks that they got for Christmas one year), head to the dollar-store (or even around and let them pick some books, colouring, toys, etc. The key is to let them pick. When they are younger obviously you pick for them, or let your older ones pick the toys they think their little siblings will like.
Some of my go to selections are:
- Colour Wonders (we call them magic markers) because they ONLY work on the special paper – so no colour on anything else.
- Blank paper – even better a little journal so you don’t have loose pages
- Little cars, trains, planes, or boats – We would also draw on the paper table cloths at some restaurants a little map full of roads, tracks, and lakes for the vehicles to drive one.
- Little characters of some kind Frozen, Paw Patrol, Minions, Angry Birds, Barbie, whatever your kid is into pack them away.
- Markers – real markers. I often hide mine away (especially when they are really young) for obvious answers – but at the table with you there they can’t get into too much trouble…can they?
- Colouring Books
- Play Doh can even come in handy
- Any electronic device that is “theirs” (We have Leapads for our kids)
Now that you have organized yourself and you have your special bag packed:
Tips to survive a long wait in the restaurant.
- Talk to your kids, sit them down, explain that you are going to go out, that it will be really fun, but that there are rules. Explain that the restaurant has rules, and we must follow them. Explain what you expect of them, and what will happen if they can’t follow the rules. The car ride there, or a quiet time before you leave would be best for this.
- Don’t sit the children next to each other if possible – we generally alternate between adult and child – just to prevent any toy stealing, etc.
- Don’t get everything out right away – in fact if you are at a restaurant that HAS things for kids use their stuff first, and if you get a toy from the treasure chest with your kids meal – ask for it right away…
- Don’t give them 10 choices for their meal pick two and ask which one they want, too many choices generally is overwhelming for adults, so it will be for kids too… Keep it simple.
- Most restaurants have their menu online so even go over it ahead of time, let them see pictures if there are any, etc. Have a plan.
- Once they have ordered – take a walk, explore the restaurant, go to the bathroom, look out the windows, show them the kitchen, get them moving. It might be relaxing for you and I to sit for a long time at a restaurant but for a kid – it’s torture. So let them explore and walk around before the meal gets there.
- Once you are back at your table – start taking out one thing at a time and remind them, that when the food gets here, it’s time to put everything away.
What to do when things go wrong
Hopefully all of your preparation has gone well and this won’t be of concern to you, but it will more than likely happen to you at least once, personally I have only had to do this once, but if things start to get bad – Leave. Is the baby crying and fussy?, Is your toddler not behaving?, Is your preschooler tired and acting out?, Did the food come incorrectly and you have to wait even longer? Whatever may have happened, and things start going bad …. Leave. If someone is screaming, or misbehaving Leave. Don’t let one bad meal ruin yours (and everyone else in your surrounding area).
Luckily for us, the behaviour corrected itself once we left and we were able to return and enjoy the rest of the meal pleasantly. But sometimes – due to circumstances that are out of your control, that wont happen. So cut your losses and pay the bill, get your food packed up and leave – this is so much easier if you are with someone else to help. Let your child know that behaviour like that is not acceptable and will not be allowed in the restaurant. Explain to them why, why it is not OK, and what we should do instead. Explain that other people don’t want to hear their screams, etc. You’d be surprised how much empathy even a two year old has.
If it is a baby that is just being fussy, that is out of their (and your) control – so just accept it, it isn’t their fault or yours.
But as I said hopefully it wont come to this for you and you will have a great and enjoyable time. Going out is a treat, and it is important for kids to get out and enjoy that treat too. Plan ahead, be prepared, have open communication, and have a backup plan if that doesn’t work.
Go out and enjoy!!