By: Jolene Roehlkepartain
Young people have a gift for making a meal absolutely delightful—or an absolute disaster! As a parent, you can do a lot to avoid embarrassing restaurant snafus and make eating out a fun time for your family. Read more >
Choose family-friendly restaurants:
What makes a restaurant family friendly? These restaurants have high chairs and booster seats, a children’s menu, and some even have a “kids eat free” evening. Surf the web and plug “family friendly dining” or “kid friendly dining” along with the name of the closest town or city near you into a search engine. Or check out a travel guide from your local library. Fodor’s or Frommer’s are good resources that tend to list family friendly restaurants.
Teach eating etiquette at home:
The way your kids eat when they go to a restaurant should be the same as the way that they eat at home. If your kids are used to eating a meal on the couch while watching TV, they’ll have a harder time sitting in a chair at a restaurant. Teach these key skills:
• Teach kids how to stay seated during the meal. This is a challenge for young children and also for kids who have ADD or ADHD. Still, keep teaching this important skill.
• Have kids use proper eating utensils. Explain that only babies can eat with their fingers and that only certain finger foods (such as French fries) can be eaten with fingers.
• Help kids learn how much food to place into their mouths. When kids are hungry, they’ll stuff their mouths with food. Get them to slow down and chew with their mouths closed. Encourage kids to bring food from their plate to their mouths, not lean down with their heads close to their plate.
• Teach kids to ask for something that they want that’s across the table. Don’t allow them to crawl up on the table or reach across other people to grab something.
• Outlaw sound effects at the dinner table. No slurping, burping, gargling, or any other noise that kids can make as they eat and drink.
Most kids react immediately to the way food tastes, smells, or feels in their mouth. Affirm that kids can have their individual reactions to food but also teach them how to be polite. Talk about how someone did a lot of work to prepare the meal. Encourage your kids to thank the chef or cook, even if they didn’t like the food. Kids will understand this even better when they have the opportunity to help you cook, and discover how long it takes to cook a nice meal.
One of my favorite restaurant experiences was when my son was nine years old, and we were dining out together. He got so excited about the hamburger he was eating, that he felt compelled to tell the cook. So he wrote a personal note to the cook on a napkin, “Best hamburger ever!” The waitress delivered the napkin to the cook, and soon after that, the cook emerged from the kitchen, walked over to our table, and shook our son’s hand.
Know your eating-out intentions:
As a parent, I sometimes want to eat out because I want a break from cooking. That’s a good reason to eat out. However, when you have children, your intention of having a break can backfire, particularly if you discover that eating out becomes more work than you intended. When our oldest was 3 years old, my husband and I took him to a sit-down restaurant. We had taken him to fast-food restaurants before, and he had behaved well. At this restaurant, however, he wouldn’t sit still. He wanted to roam the restaurant, and he didn’t like his meal, so he tried crawling onto our table to grab food from our plates. We kept reminding him to sit and have good manners, but it became clear that these boundaries wouldn’t work. He was really hungry, so we tried feeding him our food, which he also disliked. After a short while, we asked the waiter to place the rest of our meal in a to-go box, and we headed home. Lesson learned.
Emphasize the conversation:
Remember that eating together is more than just eating! It’s also about connecting with those at the table. Every time you eat, find out about each person’s day. We talk about your ups (good things) and downs (not-so-good things). Talk about what’s happening in the world. Think about the people struggling with natural disasters, war, or poverty. Use these hard-to-talk-about topics a learning opportunity to teach your kids about world geography, world events, and as a reminder of how fortunate you are to be eating a meal together rather than worrying about where your next meal might come from.
Eating together in a restaurant can bring your family closer together. Once our kids became teenagers, our restaurant outings became more of a special way to connect. There’s something about stepping out of your home and into another place that can open up conversation in new ways. By eating out together, your family can enjoy being together while also enjoying some good food.
Tell Us: ——> Which restaurant is your favorite for family outings? What do you like to talk about at the dinner table?
1. Nutrition, ParentFurther.
2. Image via Podknox on Flick’r.