People often seemed shocked when they hear that we take our kiddos out to eat (who are currently 3 yrs, 2 yrs and 6 months old) all of the time. They are fun to be with and even though things can get a little hairy at times, we just try to live in the moment and focus on making memories as a family. Here are a few guidelines that we follow to make our dining-out adventures possible.
1. Relax, don’t worry. Not sure if your kids are going to be angels or, well, not angels? Since kids will do what they do, there is no sense in worrying about it and if you are anxious and up-tight, these sensitive little people can pick up on that in a split-second. So relax, everything will be awesome. It’s just food, right?
2. Feed the kids before you go. Even if it’s just a snack, a little food and drink in the tummy can go a long way and make for happy kiddos.
3. Don’t go out starving. You too, should consider eating a little something before heading out. Even a piece of toast or some fresh fruit will help if you need to focus most of your energy on the kids and then can’t dig into your food as planned. If you are starving and dying to dig into that fabulous thing you ordered, but need to tend to a fussy baby, then your overall experience will be negative. Food can always reheat but a fussy baby needs immediate attention, especially in public.
4. Tag-team. This probably goes without saying, but make sure that each of you has a little “peaceful” time with your food and let your spouse take a turn connecting with your toddler.
5. Have fun. At the end of the day, eating out as a family is about making memories and being together. Who cares if your toddler threw a some french fries on the floor and your baby spit up on the tablecloth? You all are out as a family and that is what is important.
6. “What do you see?” While bringing activity books and extra-special snacks can be useful, the “what do you see” game has worked out great for us. The moment our kids get a little whiney or squirmy or cranky, we just ask them “what do you see?” Then I tell them what I see (“I see the man with the big red hat. I see the lady with the brown shoes. etc…) When doing this it brings the kids back to the family moment as opposed to the “me” moment they were having.
7. Don’t be embarrassed or apologetic. Everybody in the restaurant, from the hostess to the owner realizes that your children’s eating habits won’t the the same as yours. No need to apologize for your children’s “childish” ways. Just enjoy your family time and clean up the table as best as you can but don’t sweat it if you can’t make it spotless.
8. Always have a back-up plan. Try to back a couple of extra special things in your arsenal, like a special snack or a book. Only bust it out if you find it absolutely necessary.
9. Spend as little money on them as necessary. How many times have you prepared a nice meal for your toddlers to only have them pick at it and then want to go play? Kids, especially toddlers, will only eat when hungry so I recommend just sharing some of your entree with them instead of getting them their own special thing. If they seem extra hungry, you can always order a little snack for them later on in the meal. If they seem disinterested, then you didn’t waste the moolah.
10. They will mirror their home-eating habits. Finally, your children will only do what is normal for them at home. If they are allowed to throw food on the floor and be loud at meals, then they will do so while eating out. Believe me, breaking old habits is difficult but it can be worth a little focused time at home so that when they go out, they are enjoyable and not a burden.