Eating Out With Pre-Schoolers

Remember the days when dinner out meant an evening of quiet, candlelight, and romance?

If you are the parent of a pre-schooler, those days are probably a distant memory. Meals out nowadays are likely to be a bit more noisy and messy.

Take heart, having kids doesn’t have to mean eating at home all of the time, but it does mean changing your perspective a bit.

By planning ahead, you’ll find that dining out as a family can be just as enjoyable as restaurant meals used to be – well, okay not quite, but it really can be fun!

Practice Makes Perfect…

It’s a good idea to practice good table manners at home to help kids do well in restaurants.

Take the time to teach your kids to sit for the duration of meals, to engage in dinner conversations, and to ask politely for the things that they want.

Talk to them about appropriate restaurant behaviour and explain that people are expected to behave in different ways when they visit certain places.

For example, at the park you can run and yell, at the library you must use hushed voices, and at restaurants, you should be a little quieter and very polite.

Let your pre-schooler know that it is never okay to bother the people at other tables when they are in restaurants. It can be helpful to play “restaurant” at home, taking turns being the customer, the server, and the chef.

Be sure to display your best manners during these make-believe dining experiences!

When you are ready to go out for a real restaurant meal, try to choose a family-friendly place. This isn’t the time for a long, leisurely meal; preschoolers can only be still for a limited amount of time.

The best choices are restaurants that are well prepared for families with young children, offering a children’s menu, booster chairs, and crayons or games to keep little diners entertained while they wait for their meal.

Many families find that buffets work very well for them, especially if they have children of varying ages and tastes.

The wide variety of foods available combined with a casual atmosphere make buffets time-tested family favourites.

Make Them Comfortable…

The best way to assure a pleasant dining experience for you is to make it a comfortable experience for your preschooler.

If they still use a sippy cup at home, bring it along and allow them to use it at the restaurant.

Additionally, allow your child to order something from the menu that you know they already like.

Although it is a good idea to encourage kids to try new foods, for beginning restaurant-goers, being able to order a familiar food will help them to feel “at home.”

Minimize waiting time by arriving at off-peak times. Preschoolers are typically not very patient, so make a reservation or try to arrive before the dinner rush. If you expect to wait for a while, pack a small snack to keep your little one occupied.

Restaurant Meals Are Special…

If restaurant meals are an occasional treat for your family, make sure that your preschooler understands that dining out is a privilege.

Use restaurant meals as rewards for good behaviour or opportunities to celebrate special occasions.

Some families even soften their normal food guidelines when dining out. If sweets are normally off limits at home, you might want to consider approving dessert when dining out.

Children are more likely to enjoy the experience and be on their best behaviour when they know that a sweet reward awaits them.

Tips For Success…

  • Encourage your child to order something that requires dipping, such as chicken strips with sauce. Preschoolers can stay happily seated when they are busy.
  • Talk to your preschooler about “inside voices” and “outside voices,” and be sure that they understand that although they can talk and laugh with the family, boisterous behaviour and shouting are not permitted in restaurants.
  • Once you have dined out on several occasions, allow your preschooler to choose the restaurant once in a while. Being part of the decision making process will help them feel “grown up” and encourage them to behave that way, too!
  • Remind your preschooler about your expectations right before you enter the restaurant. Saying, “Remember to be on your best behaviour!” will help them to focus on their manners.

Like any new experience, it may take several visits before your pre-schooler gets used to eating at restaurants.

Be prepared to ask the server to wrap your food to go if your child cannot seem to control themselves, but do try again.

If you keep at it, you will soon be rewarded with a happy, well-behaved dining partner.

See Also
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Picky Eaters
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Raising Courteous Kids