There are two reasons why kid-feeding in restaurants is difficult from the jump. One, you need them to be still and relatively quiet for a long time. Two, they are in a new environment filled with new noises, people, food, etc. Once you understand where the pitfalls lie, you can start working out a game plan for conquering them with ease.
Here are my tips for restaurant success:
1. BYOC. Bring Your Own Crayons. Do NOT count on the restaurant to supply crayons, to have the colors your child will want, or to have coloring sheets or activity pages that will keep your kiddo occupied. I like to bring a travel soap box with crayons in it, or save crayons from a previous outing. Plan on about 15 minutes of coloring time. Piper is reading now and loves to do word puzzles. A few printed out word searches and she's good until the food comes. Plus, she's learning and practicing her reading and spelling. Win win!
**Some people do not believe that children should need to be entertained. I am not talking about setting up an iPad and headphones for your kids. That is not teaching them to behave. But they also cannot read the menu or do any of the things you do to entertain yourself while you wait for service.
2. Do not bring toys to the table. Our rule at home is no toys at the table, so for us this is not an issue. I will admit that earlier in my motherhood I would pack a few emergency cars or dolls in my purse, but it wasn't long before I realized that they are unnecessary. The last thing you need is a child who must have four matchbox cars that end up zooming across the restaurant under the feet of servers. Those suckers have wheels, you know.
3. Practice the behavior you want to see. If you don't eat dinners as a family at home and have your children sit for 30-45 minutes at home, there is no way they will do it in public. If you want them to learn how to eat with a napkin in their lap, give them a napkin at home. If you want them to drink from a regular cup in public, do it at dinner. Manners and learning patience at meals is a learned behavior. Children aren't expelled from the womb with a copy of Emily Post. You have to help them along. It's our job as parents.
4. Give your child 2 or 3 choices from the menu, plan for them to eat from your plate, or bring a sandwich for them from home. Don't be ashamed to bring them a PBJ. It's better for them to eat something than to be starving and wasting the food you order. They don't have to learn everything in one day. Once they master the art of behaving in the restaurant, then you can start adding new food to the mix.
5. Take your kids out for a spin. The biggest and best way to get your kids to eat properly in a restaurant is to do it. Get out there and start going out once a week or every ten days. Start out with family places so you don't have to worry about being humiliated in a 2-Michelin-Star restaurant. We used to go to Outback at 4pm when they had just opened. It was empty and the kids got used to going and having the place to themselves.
6. Step away from your phone. Please, for the love of Pete, get away from that cell phone. There is nothing more abhorrent to me than seeing a family of strangers all holding tech devices and not speaking at the dinner table. Barf. I hate it. I feel like walking up and dunking each of their phones in their drinks. Put your phone down, and talk to each other. Not just for your kids sake, but for the sake of your spouse, and your own manners.
7. Relax! They are just kids! Other people have them too, you used to be one, and very few people have zero experience with children. We've all had moments where our kids were those kids. Even the family who looks so together has had moments where their children meltdown. I can promise you, if you are anxious and uptight about eating in restaurants, your kids will be too.
So that is my cheat sheet. I love to eat out! It's an adventure! It's a great chance to let your kids take their manners on tour, to learn to talk to other adults, and to try new things. Yes, you will have several experiences that suck. But then it will get easier. And soon, you will notice that they aren't even coloring. They actually want to join in the conversation. They may just turn into humans after all.
*Like this post? Click the RSS Feed button on the right and subscribe to my blog.*