5 Tips for Dining Out with Kids

This post is brought to us by guest editor Carrie Anne from EverythingMom.com.

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Our kids are like a blank canvas, unwittingly looking to us to help them fill this space with splashes of experiences and knowledge. Dining out is one way to add to this canvas, expanding their palate beyond the fast food family chains.

Did you just break out into a cold sweat? It can sometimes feel as though the only dining experience you can come to expect with kids in tow is a place with vinyl table clothes and a wine list consisting of one house white and one house red. Adults often set low expectations for our little people, wanting to corral them into ‘kid-friendly’ establishments but sometimes our kids can amaze and impress.

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We regularly receive compliments on how well our kids behave when dining out and this often puzzles me. I don’t believe my children are different than other children. Whenever we head out to dinner we keep these 5 simple tips in mind:

1. Enjoy a Starter

Eating at home can often feel very utilitarian, squeezed in between homework and the bedtime routine. It’s easy to let that quick eating mentality takeover when dining out especially when the kids are hankering for food before you’ve had a chance to peruse the menu. Sometimes keeping the kids calm just requires a little food and the starter menu can be a great option (and a great way to expose the kids to new foods). If budgets are tight, bringing a little snack can also work in a pinch.

2. Practice at Home

I always think it’s unfair to expect my kids to practice different behaviors when it comes to dinnertime. Sure we’re a little more relaxed when dinner takes place in front of the TV (yes, we’ve done that many times) or out in the backyard but at the dining table the behavior is the same at home as it is dining out or at a friend’s house. Setting these expectations, such as sitting in your seat, not yelling to get someone’s attention, or even using utensils are easier to address at home. Dining out becomes the practice area.

3. Bring One Small Toy

When the kids were smaller and their attention span shorter, we would allow them to bring one small toy with them when heading out to dinner. Only one and it had to fit in their hand, such as one of the vehicles from Melissa and Doug’s Wooden Vehicles set. This would give the kids something to occupy themselves at the table when they would loose interest in small talk or table games like Eye Spy. The small size meant it didn’t take up a lot of table space and easily fit into a pocket when the food arrived (as all toys would have to go away when dinner made an appearance).

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4. Be Prepared for Impromptu Dining

Not all dinners out have to be planned. Sometimes an impromptu stop can be just as rewarding. That’s why I always carry a small pad of paper and a few pens in my bag. It’s amazing how something so simple can produce so much creative and interactive fun, from doodling to a game of Dots.

5. Connect with the Kids

It’s easy to look to electronic devices and coloring books to distract the kids when you are out but then I always feel as though the kids aren’t really part of our evening. We’ve recently tried bringing The Box Girls Family Dinner Box of Questions from Melissa and Doug with us to dinner. Not only did it kept the kids engaged, but we spent time as a family reconnecting, laughing, and learning only to be interrupted by the arrival of our dinner. The Box Girls products also fit nicely in my bag too, great for dinner, longer than expected waits in the doctor’s office, or trips in the car.

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It can feel as though the adult world frowns on kids entering their zone, but as parents we are growing little adults. Why not expose them to new experiences like the art gallery, live performances, and nice restaurants? Of course not every moment dining out with the kids will be picture perfect, we all have our bad days, but I’m sure you will encounter more positive experiences over negative ones.

Whether on a family vacation or hanging in your local neighborhood, have you ever taken the kids out to dinner at a restaurant outside of your family fallbacks? What dining out trick has worked for you?

Carrie Ann