5 Tips for Eating Out with Kids (and 5 Reasons It’s Still Gonna Be Hard)

This post also appeared on My Big Jesus

Hubby and I are foodies. We like to eat out at lots of different restaurants, try new things, get ideas to use in our own kitchen, and experience local flavors. We want those things to be valued in our kids as well, but who are we kidding? It’s tough to be at a restaurant with small kids. Just yesterday, we went out to brunch after church with our three kids, at a fairly nice restaurant downtown. We had a mostly successful time, and we’ve agreed that it’s experiences like yesterday’s brunch that trick us into thinking, Our kids are so good at restaurants! I’m here to tell you it isn’t always that way, BUT! I have a few tips to make it go more smoothly.

 1. Bring activities. This sounds a lot like “bring your tablet”, but it doesn’t have to be that way. My kids love those cheap little activity/coloring pads and a “magic” pen that only writes on the pad. They also like stickers and a pocket-sized notebook. Or games on an iPhone. I would love to say I’m above it, but I’m totally not – especially in a pinch.

2. Order an appetizer. Or order the kids’ food right when you arrive. The quicker a little food gets on the table, the better. If you don’t want to spoil their dinner, I totally get it. Order a healthy-ish appetizer, or look over the menu online, and be ready to order their dinner when you order your drinks. That bloomin’ onion might actually save your dinner.

3. Allow yourself to set the bar low. I don’t mean let your kids run around screaming, but sometimes, if they’re switching seats with each other every three minutes, that’s better than popping up at other people’s tables to say hello to every single stranger in the room. It’s hard to allow a few things to slide, but if they have a small amount of freedom, that little bit will take the place of having a bigger problem.

4. Go out when the kids are well-rested. If your daughter missed her nap today, it might not be the best night to try out that new restaurant. You’d hate to be that couple who were escorted off the premises for bringing a mountain lion into the restaurant.

5. Let them have a special treat. My kids are all about some special treats, whether they’re special drinks (lemonade, anyone?), dessert (to share, of course), or even an entree I wouldn’t normally consider the best choice. But when we’re at a restaurant, they know that it’s a special time for our family, and ordering chicken and waffles for dinner is okay by me!

Now, those tips are not fool-proof. They are not a recipe for a drama-free dinner with your children. It does not ensure a date night feel, or a happy, clean, relaxing experience. And yes, the childless couple in the corner is still eyeing your table with disdain. Here’s why:

1. Your kids hate the activity you brought.

2. Your son doesn’t like fried food, bread, or salad. He only eats macaroni and cheese from a box, and this restaurant doesn’t serve that.

3. You set the bar low, but your kids set it even lower.

4. They got their naps in, and so they’re bundles of energy that cannot be contained to a booth.

5. That maple syrup just got EVERYWHERE.

So, going out to eat is always an adventure, but they’ve gotta learn to be polite at a restaurant sometime. Why not now?

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