Happy Summer! Welcome to the second post in my series A Good Way To... In this series, I'll cover a wide range of topics all connected to kids and food. In today's post I'll share a few tips for how to have fun bringing your young kids to a restaurant. Enjoy!
The philosophy of taking your kids along to restaurants is, for our family, consistent with the way we approach most aspects of child-rearing and the way we approach food with our kids. We've never thought of kids as an obstacle to hosting friends for dinner, eating together every night, or cooking whole foods for the whole family. Taking them along to local restaurants - particularly when they were babies and not yet walking, but also many times since then - has been a natural choice for us, and there are a few ways you can make it less stressful and more fun than you might imagine.
You may be eating with a child in your lap, have your conversation interrupted, or need to wander around if your child needs a break from the table. Remembering this going in helps keep things in perspective. I try to remember that it's a luxury to eat in a restaurant and by not hiring a babysitter, I'm keeping costs down! As far as grabbing a relaxing moment or two, that leads into my next point...
Bring extra adults along.
If at all possible, invite a grandparent or another family with you when you go out to eat. Perhaps you know a family whose kids are a little older than yours and would have fun entertaining your little ones at the restaurant. We have had many, many meals in restaurants with extended family, and the more adults to take turns interacting with the kids, the more relaxing a time everyone will have.
Bring a few distractions.
This is an easy one - bring some activities for the kids. I'd avoid a screen, since at any table where you're sharing a meal, a screen discourages the very thing you want to encourage kids to do: learn how to behave properly and interact respectfully and genuinely with others, while eating a meal. Instead, try sticker books, sketchbooks and pencils for drawing, colouring books, or very small, unobtrusive and non-rolling toys for playing small-scale, creative games. For younger children, a bib and their own water bottle make things easier and tidier. When kids get old enough to get excited about their own water glass, and can hold it carefully, the water bottle becomes unnecessary!
A few things you don't need...
To bring along food for the kids, or even, I'd strongly argue, to look at a kids' menu. Very small kids (under age two) are completely happy to grab off your plate and not receive their own meal. Older than that, and just choose something off the Starters or Sides sections of the menu. Exposure to a wide variety of foods - ie, the foods adults are eating - is what creates confident eaters. There's no reason to limit the choices for children, and as so many studies have shown, the more they try, the more they will like. (That said, we have been in fancy places where the chef has offered to prepare a special meal just for our little kids - and it's hard to say no to that!)
As a side note, but an important one, cooking family dinner at home regularly (where all family members eat the same meal) is a great starting point for following these ideas when leaving the house to eat. Of course, in a restaurant everyone can order what they like, but kids won't expect a totally separate (and much more mundane) menu when they're used to eating the same wide variety of food as their parents at home.
And finally...Just Go For It.
I just said it above, and I'll say it again: Exposure. The only way kids will learn to behave beautifully in a restaurant is if they have a chance to go to one. We have been very, very lucky to have taken our children to restaurants in many parts of the world (and many excellent ones in our home city of Halifax), and we have never hesitated to do so if the chance presents itself. Fancy, or casual, it's great for kids to be able to see all types of restaurants, and observe behaviour in all of them.
Happy Travels! Here's the first post in this series, all about Dinner Parties, if you'd like to have a look.