How to Eat Out with Kids and Have Fun Doing it

Posted by in No-Cry Parenting, No-Cry Picky Eater

Eating out with kids is not the same as dining without them. When you take children to a restaurant the focus is not the cuisine or the atmosphere. It’s all about controlling the excitement and boredom, teaching your children formal manners, and having quality family time. Here’s how.

Have realistic expectations.

Children can be both excited and bored when at a restaurant. They can find it difficult to sit in one place for the length of time necessary to order, wait, eat, and pay for the meal. This improves with age, development and practice. With a good game plan, you can get through the training period and even enjoy the experience.

Pick the right restaurant.

Choose a restaurant based on its level of child-friendliness. What’s important? The availability of a children’s menu is important, of course. But make sure it actually includes food your kids will eat. Fancy Gruyere cheese on sourdough may not suffice as a grilled cheese sandwich that your child will eat. Avoid busy places that take too long to seat you at a table. Look for booster seats or high chairs. Private booths or eating nooks are better than one large open room. And a noisier, family-friendly atmosphere is always a plus. (Save the hushed candlelit ambiance for adult-only nights out.)

Teach restaurant manners at home.

If you are casual about mealtime manners at home, don’t expect your children to miraculously develop table manners because you happen to be sitting in a restaurant. Practice good manners at home for every meal, and your children will be prepared when you eat out.

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Have longer sit-down meals at home.

Typically, at home we call our children to the table when all the food is ready, and then excuse them as soon as they are finished eating. If you want to practice for restaurant visits, then it’s a good idea to have them come to the table a few minutes earlier. Then sit and chat for a bit after you are finished with the meal. Make it fun by telling stories or talking about upcoming plans. Not only will this be great practice for eating out, it’s a wonderful family-bonding ritual to introduce into your home.

Dine out at your regular meal time.

When possible, eat out at your usual meal time. Get there before the kids become famished and tired. If you must go out later than your usual time, provide your children with a snack at the normal time, and allow them to have a smaller meal at the restaurant, or to eat half the meal and bring the rest home.

Review your restaurant rules before you go.

Be very specific and leave no stone unturned. A sample list of “restaurant rules” might be something like this:

  • Sit in your seat.
  • Use a quiet inside voice.
  • Use your silverware, not your fingers.
  • Have nice conversation, no bickering.
  • If you don’t like something, keep your comments to yourself and fill up on something else.
  • If you need to use the restroom, ask me privately and I’ll take you.

Ask for an immediate appetizer.

Many restaurants automatically bring bread or chips to the table as soon as you are seated. If this isn’t the case, ask for something to be brought out for the kids. This wards off hunger and provides something to do before the meals arrive.

Prevent boredom.

Bring along a few toys like a deck of cards, plastic animals, or a baggie of Legos. This can keep your kids occupied while they wait. Nothing noisy – you don’t want to annoy other diners! But leaving them to sit with nothing to do while they wait invites noisy fussiness.

Eat and run.

Done eating? It’s time to go!!! The longer you stay, the more likely your children will run out of patience. Plan ahead. Ask for to-go boxes and your bill at the same time you order your food. This way, if you need to leave because of a tired or whiny child, you can make a fast get away.

Now isn’t the time for food exploration.

Stick with familiar foods. If the meals your children order don’t meet their expectation, it’s okay to allow them to eat only part – snack on the French fries and pack up the sandwich to go. A restaurant isn’t the place to battle over picky eating.

Not having fun? Take a breather.

If a child’s behavior gets out of hand, take the on a walk, to the restroom or out to the car for a break so that they (and you) can calm down. If things don’t cheer up after that, don’t be afraid to ask for doggie bags and leave the restaurant. But don’t give up! Review your expectations and try again.

Find more tips in The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution.

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