Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dining out with Little Ones

As much as I try to be a healthy, frugal eater, I must admit that I love dinning out. I love being out of the house. I love having someone else cook for me. I love the variety of the menu. It just turns out being an enjoyable experience all around.

However, I remember dining out a couple of times when I just had Big Boy and thinking, "We'll never eat out when we have a second child." I was just sure that it would become an impossibility. I could picture myself being in tears with screaming children all around me, food fights in the middle of the restaurant, and other dinner wishing I would just shut my kids up.

Luckily, even with baby #2, we still find the opportunity, and the nerve, to make it out once in awhile. And you know what? It really hasn't been that bad. Sure, as with all kids, they have their unpredictable moments. Some days just don't work out. But for the most part, my kids are really great in restaurants. And often times when they aren't, it's more my fault than theirs.

How do we do it? These are just a few tips I've picked up along the way:

1. Plan for the right time of day--If your kids, your kids are used to having dinner at 5 pm, think backwards. Time to the restaurant, time to be seated, time to order, time for the food to be prepared,... how long will that all take? How much later can your kids wait? Try to plan for your meal to arrive at the table about the same time you would sit down to eat at home. Don't forget to factor in the fact that restuarants are busier (and food will take longer) at certain times of day.

2. Plan for quick service--This doesn't mean that you always have to eat fast food. Just don't expect to have a three hour dinner at a five star restaurant. Raise the bar for your kids, but don't have unreasonable expectations.

3. Plan for the right location--Along the same lines, look for a family friendly restaurant. Look for a place that has a lot going on. We love Red Robin. There's tons of stuff on the walls; it's become a treasure trove for I Spy.

4. Plan for boredom--I never leave the house without a bag of toys and books. The kids each pick out several small toys and 2-3 books. No matter where we go, the old coloring page and crayons only go so far. I try to find toys that the kids haven't seen in awhile. Small cars, little babies, toy animals, some blocks,... they can go a long way in helping a little one sit and wait. I also keep the bag with me and only hand out one toy at a time. If they have them all the toys at once, they can become bored even quicker. And when having dinner with some friends, every five minutes of time together becomes even more valuable.

5. Plan for a snack--Sometimes I restauarnt is busier than you planned. The kids are hungrier than usual. The meal just doesn't fill them up like you thought it would. In those cases, you'll be thankful if you planned a few small snacks. A granola bar, some crackers, maybe some fruit... And don't count on the menu to have something for the smallest member of the family. If there's a little one that's just starting solids, be sure to pack some small finger foods.

6. Plan your ordering--We've come to find that our four and two year old can easily share even a kids' meal. Portions are often so large; it's rare that they order their own meals. The whole experience of eating out is so exciting that they often times don't finish a complete meal. And then we find that we payed $10 for two mac and cheese meals when barely one was eaten.

7. Plan your expectations--Be honest with your kids ahead of time about your expectations in the restaurant. Don't expect them to know how to act in that situation. It's your job to teach them. I've had to remind myself of this time and time again. They'll only learn from me being honest and explaining to them what I expect and what's acceptable.

There are days that nothing works. The kids are cranky, the restaurant is slow, and I'm just done. It happens to the best of us. But we pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and try again. And these are just the things that I've learned along the way. A few tips and tricks that have helped us. And I hope they help you too.

Submitted to:
Works for Me Wednesday @ Rocks in my Dryer


Amy @ Raising Arrows said...

Great ideas! We have 5 children with one on the way and go out to eat...probably more than we should!

Mom2fur said...

Given half a chance, most any child can be a well-behaved restaurant customer! IHOP was our place of choice when my four were young. I remember once when a waitress commented on how well-behaved they were. You know what our favorite family activity is now that they are all grown? Going out to dinner as a family! You build such wonderful memories when it is a pleasant and well-planned experience.

SkylarKD said...

We also try to plan ahead with the meal service. That means skipping appetizers, trying to order the meal when they take drink orders, order dessert when they check on us towards the end of the meal, and asking for the cheque when they bring the dessert. It's nice to eliminate the extra waiting!

Oh, and I always ask for extra napkins. Who in their right mind thinks 1 napkin per person is enough when you're dining with kids?!

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