Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Traveling with kids: 9 tips for eating at a restaurant

Eating out with small children can be fun, but for parents it usually involves some amount of stress: at some point the patience and endurance of a baby, toddler, preschooler or young child in a restaurant setting will run out. The question is: will you have finished your meal when that happens?

I love food, and I love eating out. I have brought my children to restaurants since they were infants, and usually they're great. Of course, they have their bad days too, just like anyone else. When you're home, you can usually pick a "good" night to go out for a meal, but when you're on vacation away from home, you sometimes have to eat out even under less than perfect conditions.

Not everyone is this relaxed after a meal.

Here are some things I've learned from my own experiences with children in restaurants: 

1. Outdoor is better than indoors - Indoors, sitting down is usually the only viable option and that can be hard for kids, especially if the meal takes time arriving, or if the adults insist on eating several courses. Outdoors, kids can sometimes have a chance to walk around, and maybe look at the view, or the traffic, or the ocean or whatever else there is to look at. Any non-hushed voices are usually less overwhelming when you're outside.

2. Roomy is better than cramped - With young children, it makes sense to try to eat at a place with a reasonable amount of space between the tables. You don't want to feel as though your children are bumping into other diners whenever they move their chair or get up to look out the window or go to the bathroom. Avoiding cramped surroundings can make for a more relaxed meal all around.

At the Mala Ocean Tavern, Maui.
3. Let your kids nap before you go - If you're bringing young kids, babies, jet-lagged or just travel-weary kids to a restaurant where you know the meal might take a while, give them a chance to nap before the meal. For babies, it might work to bring a stroller and let them sleep in it for part of the meal.

4. Use the whole menu for meal ideas - Depending on whether you have a picky-eater child or not, finding something for your child to eat of a restaurant menu can be a challenge. In some countries, children's menus aren't always an option. Looking at the whole menu, including appetizers/starters and side-dishes, can sometimes help provide some extra options.

5. Bring something to pass the time - Waiting for the food can take forever, at least it may seem like that to a hungry or bored child (or adult). Bring along some games or apps on your cell-phone that your kids can fool around with, ipods (if they're into that), coloring books and crayons, hand-held games or whatever you think will buy you some extra time.

6. Let them have their own menus - Having their own menu to look at can sometimes help kids, even ones who aren't reading yet, pass the time and make them feel better about the whole restaurant-experience. Ask for a couple of extra menus from the waiter or waitress for your kids just to help make them feel more involved.

7. Bring a bottle for babies - If you have a baby, bring along a bottle or sippy cup with their favorite beverage to pull out in case you need it. Milk, formula, water... Having something to sip on often helps infants and babies settle down. Bring two bottles if you think the meal might take a long time.

At Sagitario in Gran Canaria.

8. Bring something you know they'll like - For obvious reasons restaurants frown on someone bringing their own food. But if you have a toddler or baby, bringing a favorite snack or treat might be the only way your child will eat anything at all. A jar of baby food, some crackers, a yogurt or fresh fruit... bring something you know your child will eat, because a hungry child can run out of patience very fast! 

9. Be ready to make a hasty exit - Sometimes things just go bad. This can happen with even the best children, raised by the best parents (and that's pretty much all of us, right?). Maybe your child is tired, jet-lagged, hungry, bored, not feeling great, or just generally not in the mood for a social occasion. It happens. Babies sometimes start those crying fits that won't stop, toddlers get stuck in tantrums, and so on. Gauge the situation and decide if it is time to leave, and if you think it is, then just cut your losses. Get the bill as fast as you can, have whatever food you want to keep packed up (if the restaurant will do that), and get out before it gets worse. Then try another night and hope things go better.


  1. Thanks! And I've used number 9 (hasty exit) a few times... ;)


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