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! It can make parents vow to never step foot in another eating establishment until their children are 18 or older but it doesn’t have to be that way. Families with young kids can 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.
- Know your restaurant. Use common sense and good judgment. Some restaurant are happy to serve families and will have crayons, kids’ menus and high chairs ready. 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, make a call. Ask friends if they know anything about the establishment.
- Keep your expectations in check. Let’s remember, there are plenty of adults who get fidgety when waiting for the check. It’s not very realistic to think a toddler is going to remain quiet and still for very long. Likewise, don’t go to a quieter, more upscale establishment expecting your children to suddenly change the way they behave (like children!)
- 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. Trust us.
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”. 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. And as hard as it may seem, try not to accidentally reinforce negative behaviors by giving in to a child’s demands. This might re-enforce bad habits that will be harder to break later.
As child grow out of the toddler stage, 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 kids 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.