From tantrums to food fights, eating out with kids can make many grown-ups stick to drive-thrus. For those interested in having more on the menu than headaches and heartburn, here are five tips recommended by experts to avoid those dining disasters.
1. Practice really does make perfect
Caregivers should start practicing manners and enforcing good behavior from an early age and in a variety of settings, whether it’s a night out on the town, a family party or at a home dinner table.
In fact, try having a family “restaurant” night where everyone is on their best behavior. Dress up and have someone play waiter, print menus and let everyone vote on a name. Regardless of the location, it’s important to set expectations beforehand about which behaviors will result in the child being removed from the group (e.g., throwing food, screaming, fighting, making rude noises).
2. With a little planning, parents can stack the odds in their favor
Frommers' guide to traveling with kids suggests making sure younger children are well-rested and not starving. If on vacation or off schedule, parents know their kids are set on melt-down mode, and there might be very little that can be done to prevent incidents. One parent may have to take a child outside for a walk. The guide also suggests making a reservation to dine early (before 6 p.m.) to avoid the evening rush.
Fodor's Travel Blog recommends parents avoid formal settings altogether until they know how their child will behave. The blog also adds that it can definitely help if there are other children in the restaurant.
Try visiting websites like www.zagat.com or www.citysearch.com for restaurant reviews in a particular area. That’s a good way to find out which ones are kid-friendly.
3. Timing is everything
While parents may be tempted to have their children’s food brought out first, Fodor’s recommends avoiding this pitfall. After all, by the time they’re finished, your food may not even be served. Instead, entertain children with a tour around the restaurant, with some special toys you’ve brought or ask for a little “snack” like some crackers or chips if children are really starving.
4. Keep it simple
According to John Mariani, a magazine journalist, if your children are picky, don’t let them order anything that will set off their “yucky” radar. And for places that don't offer a kid's menu, foods on the adult menu can be ordered with sauces on the side or without something your child might consider “gross” mixed in it, like capers.
While some parents may be tempted to have their children try something new, Fodor’s adds that this isn’t the time or the place, especially to try something experimental that might make them sick, like shellfish.
5. Don’t be afraid to give children their just desserts
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Frommer's guide also reminds parents they shouldn’t feel bad doling out treats or promising dessert if things really fall apart. Just make sure it’s something like a lollipop that takes a while to eat as you wolf down your last few bites of food.
But it’s also good to verbally reward children throughout the meal if they are behaving themselves. Sometimes setting a “post-meal” reward like playing their favorite game when they get home can help.
Kim Grant has written for magazines like LDSLiving, the Washington Family, Back Home, Parents & Kids, and Natural Life. She has two novels with Covenant Communications. Her website is at www.kcgrant.com.