Looking forward to eating out with your child/ren (aged 4 years +)? Would you like to make the experience as painless as possible?
Many parents and families find it difficult to go out to eat, whether that is an intimate family dinner, or a bigger occasion with many guests, simply because they don’t know how their kids will behave or cope at a restaurant for the duration of a meal, or they already know that their kids aren’t the most well-behaved or patient when in a public eating scenario.
Here are some top tips for restaurant dining with children.
By the time your child has reached 4 years of age, they will most likely have eaten in a café, happily jumping up to the table to order their favourite drink. They are still in a learning phase though, so patience is still the order of the day. If they are allowed to run around the table at home, be prepared for them to attempt the same when dining out. Remind them that there are other diners to consider. They will still be fascinated by the packets of sugar, and salt and pepper on the table, and keen to touch candles or flower displays. Children need to be taught how to conduct themselves in a restaurant or café because these skills are not automatically downloaded at birth. You will need to teach them how you want them to behave when they are out. Coach them with pleases and thank yous (your wait staff will love you) and give them lots of praise and smiles when they sit well, use their cutlery and try new food!
Meals still need to be on the early side for our younger diners. Aim to be actually eating lunch by 12 noon and dinner by about 5pm. Expect at least 20 minutes from ordering to food arriving and make your booking accordingly. If dinner doesn’t arrive in front of your child until 7pm, you may as well forget about it. They will be over-tired and beyond hunger. For dinner meals, ask if children’s meals can be brought out with the drinks. This way you can help little people to eat without your own dinner going cold. Hold off children’s drinks until their meals arrive. A nice big glass of milk can take so much edge off their hunger that they might not be interested when their meal does arrive. If you’re invited to a breakfast, remember to give your little child something to eat at their usual breakfast time. An ‘adult breakfast’ invitation is closer to morning tea timing for kids.
Keeping them amused while waiting for meals
Do your homework where possible. See if you can take your child for a short walk outside after you have placed your order. A travel pack of colouring-in books, or a notepad and a pen work well for busy little people. A small car, picture book, small photo album or finger puppets can also help pass the time until food arrives.
Trying new foods
Children are like little foreigners. We are teaching them everything they need to know. Just because they have had ‘spaghetti’ at home, does not mean it will be the same ‘spaghetti’ at the restaurant – a small warning that the food will be a little bit different is a good idea. If there are no children’s food menus, try ordering an entrée size for your child. Alternatively you can put some of your meals onto a bread and butter plate for your child to try. Encourage children to smell the food and talk about its aroma. Give them a clue on what the food will feel like in their mouth (e.g. soft and smooth or crunchy). What flavours are there that they might know? If children need to take something out of their mouth, use it as a chance to teach them how to use a napkin to quietly take the food out – no spitting allowed!
When to leave
Meals with children are short. For children, once the food has been eaten, the experience is finished, full stop. They do not chat as we do, and have no interest in a coffee after the meal. If they have managed to keep their busy little bodies under control for about 45 minutes at a restaurant or café, you’ve hit the jack pot! By about 10-12 years of age they can manage an hour to hour and a half dining experience.
– this article was kindly supplied by Dr Julie Cichero, Deglutitionist and Speech Pathologist, and co-author of “More Peas Please” a guide to feeding fussy eaters