No Fear Dining out with Kids
I love checking out new dining popups, making my way through Michelin and “Best of” lists, as well as discovering new cuisine when traveling. I didn’t see why any of that should stop just because I had a kid!
And for the most part, this has been true. But of course there are challenges when it comes to eating out with children (especially with fine dining), as I’m sure most parents have come across. But with a little planning and being open to going with the flow, you can overcome your fears and enjoy dining out with your pipsqueak-in-tow. Do it early and often is my motto.
Bringing our children with us to eat, even more so in a unique or special place, is a learning experience. They are learning to appreciate and enjoy all kinds of food. We are teaching them how to properly use utensils, practice good manners and respect others.
Don’t be afraid — twelve tips to dining out with young kids:
1 Start them young Go out when they are babies so they get used to eating out. In fact, it’s often easier to dine out with an infant who isn’t yet mobile. But even with toddlers, it’s important to expose them to worlds other than their own through food; and the sooner you start that introduction, the more likely your kids will develop into open-minded eaters.
2 Talk it up And not just during the meal. Get your kids excited to go out by dressing it up (even if only going to a casual venue) and get them looking forward to family date night! If they are emotionally invested, they are more likely to be enthusiastic, happy participants.
3 Keep it short Kids obviously have a short attention span, but I had a lightbulb moment reading Adam Platt’s article on raising “restaurant-ready” kids. He suggests, “for every child five-and-under in your party, subtract six minutes from optimal dining time. If your fantasy of a leisurely restaurant experience runs an hour and you have three young children in tow, you need to be in and out in 42 minutes.” I now apply this “algorithm” whenever planning lunch dates with other moms and kiddos.
4 Off hours For restaurants that don’t take reservations, go for a late lunch or right when they open for dinner service. There’s usually no waiting at all, the restaurant is relatively empty, and you get your pick of tables (always outside if available) which makes even a not typically “kid-friendly” place more approachable.
5 Goldilocks Hunger Starving, your kids will surely have a meltdown. Gorged on snacks, they won’t touch their meal. Make sure the kids are hungry enough to eat when dining out to ensure the best cooperation.
6 High chair Always request a high chair, even if you think your little ones won’t need it. It will give you some freedom to enjoy your meal, and it provides an excuse to mix things up when your kid becomes antsy. I typically let my daughter sit in my lap or a proper chair while we are waiting for food and then transfer her to high chair once we are eating.
7 Let them order It’s important to involve your kids in the experience and feel like they have control, so let them choose what they would like off the menu. On that note…
8 Order small plates Don’t stick to the children’s menu. The options there are never very exciting (or healthy). Instead order smaller dishes, such as appetizers, sides, or share entrees with your little ones. I don’t know about you but my daughter only wants to eat what I’m eating anyway and this is a great way to introduce different tastes, textures, and cuisine to your kids. And whatever she doesn’t eat, I enjoy finishing!
9 Keep it coming Tell the restaurant to send everything out when it’s ready; or better yet, order the kids’ food as soon as you sit down.
10 Play games And get creative here! I Spy, travel-sized toys and activity books… we’ve even tried placing a train track circle around the plate so they stay focused on food.
11 Wiggle Room Another idea while waiting for food is to get up and move around. If there is (a safe) space around/ outside, let the kids run and play to expend their energy. This should help with getting them to sit when it’s actually time to eat… and work up an appetite!
12 Yes way rosé Oh… and don’t forget to order some wine for yourself!
Overcome your fears, get over any hesitation, and just get out there! Of course not every dining event will be perfect. There will be accidents and possible meltdowns. Life happens… in those moments, just roll with the punches. Get your food to-go and try again! With some practice, you’ll become a pro at dining out with kids.