Eating out is such a treat: no cooking, no dishes, lots of choice. Eating out with kids is a lovely family bonding opportunity, giving a chance to be able to just enjoy each other’s company…I’m not talking fast food restaurant, though that does still have a treat element for most of us.
Going to a nice restaurant with the kids, however, can be stressful. No one wants their meal ruined by your own misbehaving brats or those on the next table.
Over the years, especially travelling a lot, we’ve found ourselves eating out sporadically and learnt some things to make the expereince easier and flow better:
1) Start at home: help the kids learn table manners from an early age.
• Sit and eat together. Try to eat together as a family, most mealtimes you can, from the moment the kids are weaned onto solids
• Use spoons, knives and folks from a young age. Starting with baby-led weaning, it’s all hands and mess, but as soon as they develop coordination, kids can get a spoon and a fork (12 months) and then between 24 and 36 months get little knives as well, mostly for maneuvering the food onto the fork.
• Use a highchair, like a Stokke, that grows with kids and removes stigma of sitting on a highchair for toddlers and preschoolers. By sitting at the table always at the right height they will be able to learn table manners easier.
• Respect each other while eating: don’t get off the table, till everyone is finished, wait for eachother between courses.
(The only exception is if one child is being fussy, or very distracted, then best not wait for them, giving them the attention for the wrong reason. If they finish a main course when everyone is finished with all the food, then they can miss dessert.)
• Talk at the table, but mind language, tone and volume. No singing or shouting.
… with these things ingrained from a young age, it is much easier going out with the kids
2) Pick a restaurant that is, reasonably, child-friendly.
Choose a restaurant that is more lively and happening. For one, the kids have more to look at and observe while they wait for their meal.
For my 40th we did go to a Michelin starred restaurant, just the 5 of us- an 18 month old, 6 and 7 year old. The restaurant were very accommodating, especially as it was a very quiet mid-week meal in early January, we almost got a private room. The kids behaved impeccably. Saying that, it was slightly stressful as we were louder than the place with gentle piano music would likely have it’s guests.
Save that newly opened, special restaurant for date night!
3) Avoid the children’s menu!
What is it with restaurants thinking that all kids eat is fish and chips, burgers and spag bol?! It’s overpaying for a meal you could get at a fast food place! We very rarely order from it.
One of the reasons you, probably, do eat out is to expereince new tastes and textures that you don’t usually prepare at home.
Discuss the menu and help them order.
Some restaurants are really accommodating and they already have child portions of the menu items priced up. Otherwise, you can often ask for a second (and third spare plate) and split an adult portion between two kids, share some of my- generally too big- portion with one of the kids. Not the poshest thing, but then, personally, I do hate food waste.
4) Get your order in as soon as possible.
Sometimes you could be waiting a while even before your orders are taken. Get the orders in as soon as possible to limit the waiting time for the food. If the order is likely to take long and you have hungry, cranky kids, maybe ask for bread and butter to get them started.
5) Start with water
The drinks often arrive first. If these are sweet, fizzy drinks, which the kids then consume quickly, they will feel full up before they’ve really eaten anything. Consider ordering water on the first round and then have the juice (or fizzy) once you have your main course has arrived.
6) Have something to occupy the kids while you wait.
Most restaurants are great at getting some paper and a pen for the children to draw, if you are unprepared. Some even have little colouring sets, stickers and such to keep them occupied while you wait.
Try to avoid just giving them your phone, or a video game, especially with the sound on! The only thing worse than eating to the soundtrack of Peppa Pig from the other table, is your kids constantly craning their necks to actually watch Peppa Pig on the other table!
Engage with them. Play ‘I spy’, tick tack toe or draw letters on their back with your finger, and see if they can guess what you drew.
We tend to have some story cubes always tucked up in my bag.
7) Don’t force them to eat the food.
If a child doesn’t like the food, don’t force them to eat it. Taste what they’re having, there could be something wrong with it. This could be fixed or it may need to be sent back.
Our rule is have 3 small bites and if you still don’t like it you can leave it.
We have fallen back on a trusty cheese platter as desert for them.
8) Deal with the behaviour.
If in spite of everything, they have a meltdown, or act up and can’t be controlled, take them out of the restaurant! Don’t subject the other diners to your issues. They are paying good money to eat out.
9) Praise your children.
At the end of a pleasant meal out together, don’t forget to thank your children for their (well-behaved) company.