When your child was an infant you may have longed for the day when you could all get dressed up and go out to eat as a family. While eating out with kids is much less stressful when you can leave the pram and high chair behind, unless you have Stepford children you’re probably not quite ready for a meal at The Ivy yet! Instead, follow a few simple guidelines and your next attempt at eating out may just come without the side order of hassle.
Select an Appropriate Restaurant
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how intimidating the wrong kind of restaurant can be for children. Too many utensils? Too many glasses? Too many unpronounceable menu items? This may be the stuff of parents’ dreams, but the confusion can be stressful for a child. Instead, when eating out with older children, take them to a family friendly restaurant. Look for:
- Diversions for young children, including the ever popular crayons. If a restaurant caters for younger children, your older kids will be no problem.
- A varied menu. Eating out is much easier when whoever wants a hamburger can have it, whoever wants a pizza can have it, and whoever wants a cocktail to make it all that much more palatable might just be in luck as well.
- A kid’s menu. Again, an obvious tip, but often kids have a much easier time ordering when their selections are narrowed to what they know they like.
- A good atmosphere. Look for a restaurant with staff who don’t mind the occasional ketchup spill. Better yet, look for a restaurant with vinyl tablecloths!
- A relaxed dress code. Nothing can be more frustrating for children than having to dress up and stay clean. Bringing them somewhere where they can wear their everyday clothes is a much safer bet.
Hone Your Child’s Table Manners
Table manners should be practiced no matter where you are eating, but most especially in a restaurant. Remind your child that when eating in public it is important to:
- Sit still.
- Use an indoor voice and never yell.
- Say “Please” and “Thank you” when served.
- Keep all elbows off of the table.
- Refrain from burping or throwing food.
- Excuse him/herself when going to the bathroom.
- Eat with utensils unless given permission to eat otherwise.
Reward Good Behaviour
Eating out is a privilege not a right, so to speak, so use a dinner out as a reward for good behaviour or achievements at home. When dining out, use little rewards throughout the meal to encourage good behaviour.
- Save some foods or drinks as special restaurant treats. Fizzy drinks only at restaurants, perhaps, or the promise of ordering dessert.
- Set a limit for your child before you order. One Coke per meal, perhaps, or a shared starter. When the ground rules about treats are laid before you step foot in a restaurant, future tantrums will be averted.
- If you order something more exotic than you cook at home, offer your child a bite. Make it special by offering it to them as a treat (“You will love this asparagus! I might just make it at home if you are lucky.”) rather than as an experiment (“I hate brussel sprouts. Let’s see if you like them.”)
Eating out can be a stressful event for families. But with a little planning and a little luck, eating out with your older children should be no problem!