7 tips for dining out with kids

Young boy yawning as he waits to be fed sitting at the dining table with an empty plate in front of him

Much has been written about how to handle children who are picky eaters. Hiding vegetables, putting ketchup on everything, resorting to bribery or just giving in to the handful of things your child will eat. I’ve seen the shows, skimmed the books and read the blog posts. For many parents, meal time is a massive pain in the backside.

You have my sympathies.

For my wife and I, food and the ritual of sitting down at the dinner table is an important part of the day and our lives. We are proud foodies and are thankful that our children are as well. While eating at home is usually straightforward, going to restaurants can pose some interesting challenges.

Early bird gets the table – When you eat with kids, you are on their schedule. This means dinner at 5 o’clock. As most restaurants are generally starting dinner service, it’s often easy to get a table as you will be out the door before things pick up at 7 or 8. This means that you can generally get by without making a reservation.

Expect dirty looks – When you stroll into a relatively nice restaurant with 3 kids, you’re going to get a lot of eye rolls and “here we go”. I get it. Kids can be loud and obnoxious in public places. Since our kids have been exposed to restaurants from an early age – they know how to act and since they enjoy food and going out so much, they also know that if they mess it, we won’t go to a restaurant for a long time. At the end of the hour, it’s usually the eye rollers that have become the loud and obnoxious ones after downing a couple glasses of wine or gin martinis.

Potty preparation – When you have kids, it’s important to know where the washrooms are. Once seated, I’ll ask my kids if they need to go pee. This gives us a chance to figure out the logistics to the washroom – are there stairs, do the doors have locks, can my older kids get there on their own or am I going to make multiple trips over the next hour? Lastly, are they clean? On a few occasions, I’ve been in restaurant with an absolutely disgusting washroom and gone back to the table with a simple “Let’s go” to my wife. If a restaurant can’t keep their WC clean, imagine what the kitchen looks like.

No bread, pop, or juice – In many restaurants, bread, pop and juice can be limitless. While bread is a fancy touch, it can fill kids up. Try to limit if possible. Pop and juice are always a nice option but the sugar tends to make for a less than enjoyable dining experience. Stick to the water (it’s free!).

Sharing is caring – We don’t go out very often, so when we do, we try as many different dishes as possible. The 5 of us often order 2 – 3 different appetizers and 2 – 3 different entrees.  This ensures that food will be shared and that all plates will be licked clean (don’t literally lick your plates). It can sometimes be a bummer when you really like something and only get a mouthful of food but it can be a lot of fun to talk about what you liked, didn’t like, would order again, etc.

Save room for dessert – When dining with kids, you need to reconcile the fact that dessert is going to happen. The servers know this when they subtly mention the specials and watch the kids eyes light up at the possibility of apple beignets, crème brule or salted chocolate mousse. As with the main courses, dessert is to be shared. We’ll typically order 1 – 2 different desserts for sharing.

Don’t get sticker shock – One of the foodie realities is that dining out is never cheap. This is why we generally only go out to a nice restaurant once a month. During the meal, I usually keep a tally of what the bill will be and then round up. This softens the blow a little when you get the bill. It’s a good policy to be prepared so that you don’t ruin what has most likely been a pleasant experience for everyone. I used to be very bad at this so my wife would pick up the bill to avoid my overreaction to the price of lamb shanks. I’ve gotten a lot better.

So these are some of my suggestions for having a great dining experience with the kids. Have any suggestions? Feel free to share….and pass me that last spoonful of pea puree.

Picture of Mark Medland

Author: Mark Medland

Mark Medland is a 40 something father of five who lives in Mississauga, Ontario. When he is not working at one of the big Canadian banks or raising his kids, he likes to cheer for the Habs and eat amazing food with his wife Vanessa.

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