Eating out as a family is something we try to do at least once a week. Sure, it’s more expensive and maybe not quite as ‘convenient,’ but for us, there is something extraordinary about being able to share meals. The time talking and laughing and sharing “this is the best part of my day” moments comes with an additional bonus: keeping the kids full until dinner when you get home!
Before I had kids, I was one of those parents who would always order off the kid’s menu when eating out so that our little guy had food he’d like at a price point that didn’t break the bank. Those days are long gone now (not really), but I still make sure we have some choices on any restaurant menu if I think they would suit our little eaters.
What are your tips for eating out as a family?
Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way that may help make eating out with small children less daunting and more fun:
Tip #1 – Messy Meals aren’t all bad!
This week I was having lunch with friends at the pub (we happened to have brought our very well-behaved 2-year-old) who were both horrified when their daughters ordered chicken nuggets, fries, and salad. “Why would you ever do that?” one of them said, expressing her horror at the thought of her daughter’s clothes being covered in salad dressing or ketchup stains on her shirt. As a former waitress, this is something I get—especially when it comes to older kids.
But I think as parents, we shouldn’t be so hasty in our judgments of other people’s choices. Kids are messy by nature, and sometimes, that is just what they need to do. For us, ordering a meal like this means the kid gets their favorite food (chicken nuggets) with a side of nutritious greens (salad), and everyone is happy! As long as those chicken nuggets aren’t covered in ranch sauce or deep-fried to the point that they are nearly burned, I’m all for a bit of mess when eating out. So don’t be afraid to order something messy—it may just work for you, too!
Tip #2 – Bring something to entertain your little one
We’ve all been there before: you’re looking forward to a nice meal out and maybe some time with friends over coffee when, after twenty minutes, your toddler can’t sit still anymore. As parents, we often feel like a burden when our children are behaving poorly in public (if you’re with me, you know what I’m talking about). And yet, let’s face it—in most cases, our kids aren’t doing anything worse than running around a department store or playing in the grocery cart (which no one seems to mind at all!). Still, when it’s in a restaurant, all of a sudden, it feels like we’re waging war on polite society or something.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you let your child run amok and annoy everyone at the restaurant—I am just saying it doesn’t feel so bad if you’ve got nowhere to put them while you eat.
Some parents may be more comfortable having their kids entertain themselves, and others will need some structure to distract them. I often recommend bringing along their favorite toy or one that you know will make them laugh and encourage interaction for a younger child. My toddler is currently obsessed with the talking Minion from Despicable Me—we now bring him everywhere we go! Older kids might enjoy having something like a pad of paper and some crayons to draw on or a tablet.
Tip #3 – Make your fun!
As long as it’s not incredibly rowdy, I think having some conversation and laughter at the table is a great way to make eating out with kids more enjoyable—and even entertaining for them. As parents, we often feel like being seated at a restaurant means it’s “time to behave” and even have a sense of pride when we manage to get through the meal without our kids acting out.
What if I told you that instead of feeling like a winner if everyone behaved, you could feel something closer to pleasure and satisfaction just by being YOU? That your kids would love seeing you laughing with friends or sharing your perspective on how beautiful the light looks coming through the window. It doesn’t mean making loud voices or acting silly—it just means being more mindful about what you are doing at the moment, saying hello to people around you, or simply smiling at other diners as they come in. If you’ve got two little ones running up and down from their seats (like we do), they will be much more entertained if you’re sharing some laughs with them than having a polite but strained conversation with your fellow diners.
Tip #4 – Some children need a little more room
As much as possible, try to reserve a table for larger groups (like ours). You’ll find that there is almost always a spot or two at the end of larger tables away from direct traffic. This extra breathing room can make all the difference for even your youngest kids who may be less comfortable in such tight quarters with strangers and yet still want to sit up straight without bumping into those around them. Or you could always try to get the earliest seating available. Sometimes families arrive later than others or take longer eating, so getting an earlier seat might mean you get out faster than if it was later at night and everyone else had just left work.
Tip #5 – Take advantage of the distraction
Restaurants are fun for kids, and if you’re going out to eat with them, I think it’s important not to say, “Nope! We can’t do that.” In our case, we’ve always been big fans of high chairs with straps (that strap in)—in fact, our pediatrician even recommended them because we have a child who likes to try climbing up things. So instead of trying to cut these little guys off from their desire to explore everything around them or worrying about whether they might fall, why not embrace this curiosity?
We’ve also had success for older kids, just letting them pick a couple of exciting things to look at while they wait for their food.
You can opt to go to a game-centric restaurant that offers games like ping pong, shuffleboard, and even hockey. That way, your older kids can be entertained while waiting for your table to be served. However, ensure their games table is one whose brand is known for its quality builds that will last a long time.
Depending on how the kids love the game, you can introduce it to the house. However, you’ll need to review the best bubble hockey tables if you prefer hockey to ping pong. Or you can simply visit Leisure Head for all sport equipment reviews.
at leisurehead.com) as that gives them a chance to take advantage of their excitement for something new.
They might not have the patience to focus for long stretches, but if you let that curiosity be your guide, you may find that it’s easier than you expected.
Eating out with kids can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. A restaurant is an excellent place for kids to explore their world. If you’re looking for ways to make the experience more enjoyable and less stressful, then these five tips will help you find your way:
- Messy Meals aren’t all bad! ;
- Bring something to entertain your little one;
- Make your fun!;
- Some children need a little more room;
- Take advantage of the distraction;