Taking a young child out to a restaurant can sometimes seem like a daunting task to new parents, but you can’t know what it’s like until you’ve tried! Some experiences can make parents vow to never step foot in another eating establishment until their children are 18, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible for families with young kids to eat out with a minimum of chaos. It just takes some planning, both before and during the time at the restaurant. Follow these simple steps and you might find that you and your family actually enjoy eating out together!
- Go early. This does not mean you need to catch the Early Bird Special, but restaurants tend to be less busy during the early evening hours. Plus, as a general rule, the later the hour, the crankier the child.
- Pick a family-friendly restaurant. Some restaurants are happy to serve families and will have crayons, kids’ menus, and high chairs. Other restaurants are clearly expecting a strictly adult clientele. If you are not sure if a restaurant is kid-friendly, check it out. Look at the website or call them to find out. Ask friends if they know anything about the establishment or for recommendations of restaurants that are family-friendly.
- Have realistic expectations of your children. It’s important to keep in mind that even adults can get impatient waiting to be seated, for their meals to arrive, or for the check to be paid so you can leave. It’s not very realistic to think a toddler is going to remain quiet and still for very long. Bring along appropriate toys, games, or coloring activities to help entertain your child during the long waiting periods.
- Bring a taste from home. Recognizable snacks can prevent a meltdown if the child and the menu don’t see eye-to-eye. Additionally, toddler-sized forks and spoons are a good idea, too.
- Unless you’re prepared to use 100% of your attention to entertain your child, ask for the check as your table is being cleared at the end of your meal.
Since young children typically love making a mess at the table, eating out also presents an opportunity to reinforce positive table manners. The easiest way to do this is to teach children in stages starting at home. This might mean starting out by teaching your child how to use a fork, spoon, and napkin and later, introducing concepts such as “please” and “thank you”. At Educational Playcare, our students and their teachers eat their meals and snacks together at the table family-style to help practice these skills and to exercise kindness, which is one of our Core Values. Children need regular reminders about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. It’s also a good idea to show the child examples of good table manners by being a role model yourself.
As your child becomes a toddler, the picky eater stage will likely take over. This means there will be lots of fussing over food. Still, parents should sit with children, explain what they expect, (such as “try one bite of everything”) and maintain those expectations. Young children should not be expected to immediately act like adults at the dinner table. However, establishing positive behavior early will help to form positive habits later on.