We love eating out as a family. Matt and I are big foodies and we want to pass that appreciation onto our children.
I have my parents to thank for this. When I was growing up we ate out all the time. One of my earliest memories is me, aged 5, chowing down moules frites in a little seaside restaurant in the South of France. My mum kept a selection of travel games tucked away in her oversized handbag to keep us amused. And, if weather permitted, she and dad chose places with large patios to explore between courses – somewhere to expel some of that restless energy that tends to detonate when kids are shoe-horned into confined spaces…
My parents were so relaxed about it too. To them it seemed the most natural thing in the world to take a couple of kids under eight into a Michelin Star restaurant. If I wanted to run around the table then so be it, just as long as I wasn’t disruptive. I learnt to be respectful of other diners and inquisitive about food. If the locals were eating snails dripping in garlic butter then why shouldn’t I?
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Since Emily & Jess came along we’ve had some major successes, like the time we survived a five-hour, eight-course culinary extravaganza… On other occasions we’ve had to pack up and leave before the starters have even arrived.
Here are my 9 Top Tips to turn that meal out into an experience all the family can enjoy:
1. Go Child Friendly (Wherever Possible):
My personal favourites are Jamie’s Italian, Pizza Express, Wagamama and ASK because the food comes quickly and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something on the menu that everyone likes. They’re also a good choice for a last minute decision because they provide their own Fun Packs. It saves trying to find a newsagent nearby when little tummies are beginning to rumble
2. Book Ahead:
I’ve personally never had a problem with availability/high chairs etc in any Child Friendly restaurant but it’s always best to book ahead just in case. There’s nothing worse than a twenty-minute wait for a table with two ravenous kids in tow.
3. Ease Up On The Food Policing:
Now is not the time to be pushing the green stuff. If your child wants to eat beige then don’t make an issue of it. We were in a restaurant recently where a mother was forcing broccoli on her three year old. The child wasn’t having any of it and screamed the place down for hours. Relax. You’re a responsible parent. Your kid isn’t going to dive headfirst into childhood obesity if they only eat chips for lunch. There’s always teatime to top up their Five-A-Day.
4. Talk It Over:
On the way to a restaurant we like to chat about what we’re going to eat once we get there. It saves on a monumental miffle. Online menus are even better.
5. Don’t Forget The Snacks:
Breadsticks and raisins tend to be our snacks of choice. In case you haven’t noticed by now kids don’t like waiting for stuff. Head off the whines with a well-placed rice cake. Then sit back and engage in conversation with your partner for the first time in six months.
6. Limit Expectations:
Kids don’t like to sit still. Fact. I try to take a leaf from my mum’s book here and let the kids wonder (within reason). Also don’t get too comfy. Anticipate that you’ll be up and down at least five times for toilet-trips etc.
7. B.Y.O Fun Pack:
God Bless Tablets for when things get dicey. I used to get so embarrassed about producing our Kindle Fire when the girls were kicking off. Then I looked around and saw that everyone else was doing it. Start with the colouring but feel safe in the knowledge that you have a Plan B. We tend to pack the following activities for the girls;
- Sticker books
- Plain paper
- Coloured pens (crayons seem a bit faint when you’re leaning against tablecloths)
- A small box of Lego
- A small tub of playdoh
- A couple of reading books
- 1 x charged-up, tantrum-busting Tablet
8. When In Doubt, Bribe:
If my kids behave well in restaurants then I’ll let them loose on the dessert menu. There’s no better weapon in a parent’s arsenal than the threat of, ‘no ice cream’…
9. Admit Defeat:
You’re not going to win them all. If their behaviour descends into Problem Child territory then it’s best to cut your losses before the mains come out. There’s always next time (and Tesco Express on the way home…)
Have any of these tips helped you? Comment and let me know!