Manners on the Menu: Ten Tips for Eating Out with Young Kids
We’ve all been afraid of being that table in a restaurant. Aidan is more interested in playing musical chairs than sitting still in his. Josie refuses to use her inside voice. Luke and Lauren keep exchanging mac and cheese torpedoes across the table. Eating out with young kids doesn’t have to be a stressful battle royale – with some planning and practice, your family can enjoy peaceful meals out.
10 Tips For Your Next Outing
- Practice at home first. In calm moments at home, take time for training before you venture out to a restaurant. Practice proper dinner manners by inviting stuffed animals or friends to a tea party or snack. Role play good choices like sitting still, using utensils and waiting patiently. Don’t forget the importance of emphasizing manners at the dinner table every night – your kids will be better able to follow the rules when dining out when they know what’s expected of them at the table.
- Choose your restaurant carefully. This may not be the best time to try sushi for the first time at the trendy new place downtown. Before eating out with young kids, be realistic in your expectations. Pick a restaurant where you know your kids will find something they like on the menu, where you can order quickly and receive your food without waiting too long. If your kids are small, try a place where small spills and messes aren’t a big deal – not a fancy place where you’d be worried about the tablecloth and china. Restaurants with more activity may be better so that kids don’t have to try to speak in hushed tones – and the goings-on can give them something to watch, as well. However, keep in mind that restaurants with a lot of TVs can distract kids from conversation or eating their meals.
- Respect your kids’ attention span. Waiting for a meal in a busy restaurant can be tough for hungry adults too, but remember that kids have a shorter attention span than we do. This may not be the time to try a hometown favorite so popular you know you’ll have a long wait for a table. If you know the deep dish takes twice as long as the thin crust at the local pizza place, save it for another time. Some places will bring kids’ meals out first at your request.
- Time it right. Plan to eat early so your child isn’t overly tired or hungry – and it may help you avoid waits for tables and service, too. You may not be hungry at 5:00, but account for the drive and your wait for the food – it may be 5:45 or later before you eat.
- Keep them busy. When eating out with young kids, bring small coloring books or small puzzles and games to keep kids occupied while they wait for food. Try simple games like “I Spy” or “Simon Says.” Focus on activities you can do with your child rather than handing over your phone or allowing them to bring a tablet or video games to the table.
- Don’t count out appetizers. Consider ordering a kid-friendly appetizer as soon as you’re seated, or if the restaurant allows outside food, bring a small bag of grapes or crackers to take the edge off your kids’ hunger as they wait. Bring pre-portioned snacks so there’s not an opportunity to overindulge on the snacks and not eat the meal.
- Consider this a family date night. Make sure to include your kids in the conversation. If they feel they are being ignored, your child will find ways to get your attention – and probably not in the ways you’d prefer.
- Set expectations ahead of time. When you’ve done plenty of training at home, be clear with kids how they’re expected to act while eating out and what the consequences are if they choose to not follow the rules. “Joey, if you get in and out of your chair, Mom or Dad will take you out to the car so the rest of the family can finish eating.” Taking the child out of the restaurant isn’t punishment, but it is an indication to you that your child wasn’t ready yet. Train some more at home and try again. Most importantly, follow through. If your child is acting up, remain calm and stick to the consequences. Otherwise, your child will learn that he doesn’t have to follow your rules.
- Stay calm. If your child can see that her behavior is bothering you, she’s more likely to escalate that poor behavior to engage you in a power struggle. Remain unfazed by her behavior and follow through with the consequences you discussed during your training.
- Practice, practice, practice. Learning to eat out – how to sit, how loud to talk, how to use your napkin, good dinner conversation and more – it all takes practice. The more chances your kids have, the better they’ll get at it.
About the Author
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic – A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.