Eating out with kids is a task that’s often easier said than done. Trust me, with seven kids of my own, I’ve dined-out with children more than the average Joe, and from those experiences I’ve learned what works — and what doesn’t. Here are my tricks and tips for a successful restaurant outing with kids.
— QUIET DISTRACTION: Bring along a quiet distraction for children to enjoy if the restaurant doesn’t happen to provide crayons or a coloring page. I suggest, a coloring book, a toy car or action figure or some stickers. I always bring the iPod and headphones as my backup plan. Sometimes a child will be nearing meltdown mode before the food has arrived and you’ll need something to occupy them until they get to eat. Make sure you bring toys that are quiet, because others dining nearby won’t likely want to listen to a loud battery-operated toy for an hour.
— LIMITED OPTIONS: Too many options usually lead to upset, so take it upon yourself to limit your child’s options for food and drink. Sure, the restaurant might offer: Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, milk, iced tea, Shirley Temple, Roy Rogers, lemonade and water for the drink options, but that might be an overwhelming selection for your child to pick from. We usually offer our children the choice of milk or water. And we do the same with the food. There are usually 3 to 5 entre choices on the kid’s menu; we choose the healthiest two options and allow our children to pick between those two.
— PICK THE RIGHT RESTAURANT: Find out what restaurants are kid-friendly in your area and try those first. If you’re traveling look on Yelp or call restaurants to find out what the atmosphere is like and if the restaurant is suitable for children and families. It will be miserable for all involved if you try to take a family to a fancy establishment only to find yourself trying to clean up spilled milk while comforting a screaming toddler. Save the fancy restaurant for date-night, and hit up that ‘50s diner with fun music, milkshakes and coloring books with the kids.
— ORDER KIDS FOOD FIRST: Often times my children are very hungry by the time we make it to a restaurant, so my wife and I make a point to order their food when we order everyone a drink. The food will then arrive more quickly, and your children won’t sit hungry longer than they have to. Don’t wait for the waiter or waitress to ask you what you’d like to eat for dinner. Take initiative and politely let them know your kids are hungry and you’d like to put their order in immediately. It’ll be worth it!
— CHILDPROOF THE TABLE: There are all kinds of items on a restaurant table that aren’t suitable for children. As soon as you get to the restaurant make sure you first childproof the table — or at least the area of the table within your child’s reach. When I say childproof the table, I essentially mean getting rid of knives, salt shakers and breakable objects and ensuring there are lids on all children’s cups.
— COMMUNICATE: It doesn’t hurt to talk about dining out ahead of time. Discuss what it will be like and how the children are expected to behave. Have a tea party or trial run at home; you’ll be able to play and have fun while helping your children learn what’s expected of them at a restaurant.
Eating out with kids can be fun. Remember, it can be an unpredictable experience. Be prepared to leave early and take your food to go if necessary.