Eating Out with your child

There is no need for you to stop eating out because you now have a baby and you may have situations where you need to eat out in a restaurant because you are out, on holiday or with friends. Some parents find eating out to be a stressful experience but as long as you are prepared, there is no reason for there to be any problems. As you get used to it and your children get older you will probably come to enjoy eating out and to see it as a wonderful way to spend time together as a family.

Here are some useful tips to help when planning to eat out:

  • Choose a restaurant that is family friendly. Many restaurants and pubs have specific children’s/toddler menus and high chairs. Some restaurants also supply colouring pages and crayons or activity packs for your child or may even have a play area for children.
  • If there is nothing on the menu suitable for your child, do not be afraid to ask for a smaller portion of an adult menu or get them a starter as a main course. You may even find this preferable to the standard chicken nuggets and chips-style options.
  • Try and book your table in advance. You can pre-order a highchair and if necessary ask for a larger table or space for a pushchair to be parked next to the table, and can also specify whether you would prefer a quieter spot or a lively space where your child has lots to amuse her such as a window seat.
  • Eat at the time that suits your child. If you have a young baby, try and feed them before eating and lay them down for a rest when your food arrives. If your child will be eating at the same time as you, make sure you allow time for ordering and waiting. For example if your child normally eats at 12:30, book your table for 12:00.
  • If possible, try and decide what you want to order before you sit down. Read the menu outside or online before you go. This means that your child will have less to time to wait inside the restaurant.
  • Try and choose a restaurant that you know can serve quickly even in busy periods. Most children will get bored and restless after an hour. You do not want your child to get upset before the starter has arrived.
  • If your child has particular likes or dislikes do not go to a restaurant that does not serve food that your child likes or is at least aware of. For example, it may be best to try a Chinese meal at home before going to a Chinese restaurant. However, if your child is fairly versatile, eating out can be a great opportunity for them to try something new, even if it’s just a little taste of your meal.
  • Bring your child their own small size cutlery or drink cup if you think your child may not be handle full size cutlery or a glass.
  • Ensure you do a toilet-run or nappy change before sitting down.
  • Take plenty of moist wipes for cleaning up after your child.
  • If your child is likely to get messy, take a bib or a tuck a towel/serviette around their neck and roll up their sleeves.
  • If your child is at the finger food stage take plenty of small snacks that can be given throughout the meal or after the meal to allow you extra time.
  • Take some small toys for your child to play with. Make sure they are not too noisy and that they will not break if dropped on to a hard floor. Books for while you are waiting are also a hit.
  • Do not panic if your child throws/drops food on the floor. It is sensible practice to pick up any large pieces that may cause an accident, for example a breadstick thrown behind your child where waiting staff and other customers are walking but any food that is dropped around your table area can be left whilst you are eating. It is up to you whether you want to pick up pieces before leaving the restaurant or leave them to be cleaned up by the waiting staff.
  • Involve your child in table conversation. Eating out should be a pleasant experience for everyone.
  • If your child is old enough, try allowing them to choose their food themselves. You could choose two options such as ‘the roast chicken or the roast beef’ and let them pick.
  • Set a good example. You should not have a beefburger if you have told your child that they cannot have one. Your child will learn from you. Likewise with behaviour: for example, if you keep getting up and down then your child will also want to get up and down a lot.
  • Treat eating out as a treat. If your child thinks that the experience is enjoyable, fun and exciting they are more likely to be good and enjoy it.
  • If your child is still very young and there is a chance that you may need to sit and hold your baby, choose a meal that you can eat one handed.
  • If your child gets restless, do not worry. Take it in turns to take your child for a walk around the restaurant or outside for some fresh air.
  • If there is no way that you can enjoy your food with your child, ask the restaurant to wrap your meals up and take them home to eat.
  • If one attempt at eating out turns into a disaster, do not be put off.  Try eating out another time. It will improve with time and as your children learn how to behave in a restaurant.

Most importantly, try to remain calm, in control and enjoy yourself!

by Jenny, mum to William and James

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