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The plan is to head out for a relaxing dinner with the family where someone else makes the food and cleans up the dishes… Or you’re on vacation and you’re dining out with kids for every meal…
Things at the restaurant have gone well so far. The kids are sort of quiet and everyone decided what to eat without much of a fuss. The waiter brings over your meal and you’re about to dig in.
Then it hits.
You realize it’s close to bedtime and your little one is super cranky, doesn’t want to eat what’s on her plate and screams to go home but you can’t leave without paying the bill…
Does this sound familiar?
I’ve been there and done that with my son. It’s no fun to be that family with the screaming miserable child who you feel is ruining everyone else’s experience (by the way, don’t worry about it – most people have been in a similar situation and completely understand your plight and wish they could help).
To avoid being in that situation, I’ve come up with a few easy strategies to make dining out with kids easier and less stressful for everyone – you and your children.
Choosing the right time to go
When R was a bit smaller this was a big one for our family. If R doesn’t get his sleep he is a mess – unhappy, argumentative and loud!
To avoid this situation, whenever we go out to eat we make sure the timing works with our schedule and R’s schedule. If that means we can’t go out on a particular night or with certain friends because dinner is scheduled for way past R’s bedtime then so be it. I’d rather stay home with a happy child than take him out and have a miserable time.
Of course, we are flexible and if plans are for 6:30 p.m. instead of 6:00 p.m.than we’ll work around it. However, the evenings of going out for dinner at 8:00 p.m. are long gone (unless some kind soul is over at our house watching R).
Choosing the right place to go
When you’re on vacation this can be more difficult but is definitely worth thinking about.
If you’re away from home and not familiar with the area offerings, take a quick look at Trip Advisor under the restaurant tab. You can search specifically for restaurants that are good for “families with children” and see if anything appeals to you. From there, I usually take a look at specific reviews to see if a restaurant is popular with families with little kids. If you see positive comments from families with small children along with photos of the restaurant with kids enjoying their meals then you’ve found a winner.
At home we know the best places to take our son and they are usually casual restaurants with simple menus and friendly atmospheres.
We’ve taken R to some “fancier” restaurants and it usually goes well which leads me to the next tip –
Take a look at the menu before you go
R is a picky eater. I tried my best to get him to like a variety of foods but once he was able to speak up and realized that different options are available, that was the end of it.
Knowing my son, we always look at the menu online (if available) and mention the options available to him ahead of time so he has time to decide what he wants. This strategy also ensures that there’s something he’ll eat wherever we go.
In my opinion, any situation where a little kid has to sit still for any amount of time calls for distractions. I find this to be especially true if you have a very active child. It can be difficult for them to sit still for the duration of the meal.
We usually bring along quieter toys and books – R loves sticker books and DK Publishing has great options ranging from trucks to Disney princesses. My niece enjoys the Melissa and Doug Water Wow activity books which are mess free and easy to carry around.
Now that he’s working on printing and reading at school he loves bringing writing notebooks to dinner. We love them too since he’s having fun and learning at the same time.
Go with Friends and/or Family
When we go out to eat at home we tend to go either with our extended family or with friends that have children around the same age as R. It’s a great opportunity for us to catch up with our friends and family plus it gives R the opportunity to hang out with either his cousins or one of his buddies. Usually the kids entertain each other so it’s a win win situation.
Make a reservation (if you can)
Especially when going out with a larger group it’s ideal to make a reservation wherever you go. This will reduce any anxiety associated with getting a table, keeping you on time and dramatically reduce any waiting time which can also drive you nuts when everyone is hungry and impatient.
We keep these tips in mind whenever we head out to eat and more often than not we enjoy a great family meal
What are your tips for taking kids out to eat?