Tips for Stress-Free Dining Out With Young Children
Tips for a Stress-Free Dining Experience
Follow these rules to lower your stress and not get caught getting unfriendly stares from the other restaurant patrons.
Pick an appropriate restaurant. If a restaurant is clearly not kid-friendly, don't take young children there no matter how well-behaved or polite you think they are. If there's no kids' menu, it's probably a signal youngsters aren't welcome. For example, if you want to go to Raleigh's Glenwood South, choose MoJoe's or Armadillo Grill over Solas or Hibernian.
Have an exit strategy. Ask for the check up front. There's nothing as excruciating as waiting for your check after the kids' alarm has gone off and they are ready to get up and move - now. Do what you can to beat a hasty exit at a moment's notice.
Pack distractions. Don't count on coloring pages and crayons from the restaurant. Bring what you know your kids like to do. Puzzles, games and simple craft projects help children stay occupied while waiting for their meal and provide a cushion so, with a little luck, you can relax for a few moments after you finish eating.
Prepare a kids' MRE. The military has Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and so should you, epecially for preschoolers, toddlers and younger. There's nothing worse than a hungry, finicky child in public. Pack small snacks of foods they like. Offer these only when all menu options have been rejected but before the child's meal ends up on the floor. Sometimes, eating small amounts of familiar foods encourages children to eat something new and strange on their plates. Older, school-age children, however, should eat off the menu unless there are food allergy issues that can't be avoided.
Be flexible. A favorite food yesterday may get a "blech!" today. Don't pigeonhole children into one or two favorites and be willing to go with the flow. You never know what might pique kids' interest, but remember that they might be excited about something new, then turn up their noses when the food arrives. Ask for a doggy bag and be prepared to make a PB&J when you get home.
Practice your manners at home. A "restaurant night" at home is an excellent way to learn to behave when dining out. Older kids love to pretend to be waiters, and it's a good way to help them realize how much work goes into preparing and serving a meal.