It’s been a long time since I posted about eating out with children and in that time we have grown from a family with one young toddler to a family with a kindergartener and a just-found-her-feet-but-mama’s-not-ready-to-call-me-a-toddler-yet baby. We still don’t eat out that regularly which makes it a treat for all of us, which it can only be if it’s relaxed and stress-free for both the children and the adults. Here’s a few simple steps we take to make dining out as a family as low-fuss as possible;
Success is in the planning: Being just that little bit organised before you even leave home can make all the difference to a family outing. Carefully consider;
- Your choice of venue – is the restaurant or cafe family friendly? Are high chairs available? Is there a children’s menu? You’ll feel a lot more relaxed dining with children in tow if the restaurant is somewhat informal and clearly caters for family groups.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew – dining out doesn’t have to just be about dinner, would a family outing for just dessert, coffee and cake or breakfast be a better fit with your family dynamics and routine right now?
- Time it right – wherever possible, make a prior booking with the venue so that you are not waiting unnecessarily. We try to book at least half an hour before our regular meal time to ensure that there is time to order and for the food to be prepared before the girls get too hungry.
- Don’t wait until everyone is ready – we tend to order the children’s meals as soon as we arrive so that their meals come out first and they are not waiting for adults to read the full menu before making their own choices.
- If dining with a large group, looking up the venue’s menu online beforehand can save valuable time on the day.
Make like a boy scout and be prepared: I know it can be easy to get out of the habit of making preparations for outings once young children are out of nappies but I find it is always handy to have each of the following on hand;
- Baby wipes – fabulous not only for wiping messy fingers and faces but also cleaning high chairs or wiping over tabletops that have been left suspiciously sticky by the previous occupants.
- Child sized utensils for young children
- Children’s water/drink bottles
- Snacks – It might seem silly to take along food when you are heading out to eat but keeping a few small snacks tucked away can be a blessing if you face lengthy delays.
Keep them busy: I might arrive looking like I’ve packed for an overnight stay rather than a simple meal but I am always sure to bring along a small but varied collection of quiet activities to occupy the girls during waiting times. These might include;
- Drawing utensils and paper, pad or colouring book
- Sticker books
- A new children’s magazine
- Small figurines: fairies, dinosaurs, zoo animals, Polly Pockets, My Little Ponies – they’ve all made an appearance at one time or another on our family mealtime outings
- Mini magna doodle (check out this post for four game ideas for the magna doodle)
- Plasticine (the baby wipes also come in handy for wiping down table tops once done)
- AJ’s baby play purse
- Board books (easy to wipe down if food gets spilt)
Encourage social skill development: Eating out provides a wonderful opportunity for children to observe and use a range of good manners and social conventions. Support your children to take (developmentally appropriate levels of) responsibility for what to eat and drink, for ordering their meal and for making suitable requests from waitstaff.
Do you dine out often as a family? What are your tips for making it a pleasant experience for everyone?