10 Tips for Eating Out With Your Child

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10 tips to help keep your child’s eating habits from turning into frustrating public displays of disaffection and make your family’s meals out on the town more enjoyable for everyone involved.

  1. Maintain a Healthy Attitude. Eating out requires a lot of social skills—skills that children must not only be taught, but be given the chance to practice. Each time you head out to a restaurant, be sure to remind yourself that being quiet and sitting still with one’s napkin across one’s lap throughout an entire meal doesn’t come naturally.
  2. Pick a Restaurant That Caters to Kids… If there’s a “Kids Eat Free” sign in the window, the hostess is ready and waiting with a box of crayons, and the level of background noise is high enough to drown out any unexpectedly loud outbursts, it’s a safe bet you’re good to go. Don’t forget that as your child’s mealtime manners develop, you can look forward to dining at restaurants that cater to a more mature crowd.
  3. BYOB. bring your own backup. Bringing along a couple of mealtime accessories can go a long way toward making the meal go smoothly and helping your child enjoy rather than ruin the ambiance.
  4. Keep in Mind That It’s About Time. Many of the problems children have behaving in restaurants can be traced back to having too much time on their hands. Boredom and impatience are not your friends. Since the clock will be ticking from the minute you walk in the door, we recommend:
    1. Calling Ahead. Make reservations or take advantage of call-ahead seating.
    2. Going Early. By beating the rush, you’ll be less likely to have to wait for a table.
    3. Ordering Efficiently. Skip the formality of ordering drinks first and get your full order in the first chance you get.
  5. Clear Your Own Table. clear the table before you eat. That’s because restaurants are seldom childproof to the extent necessary to keep your meal accident-free. As soon as you sit down to dine, remember to scan the table for items that stand to disrupt your dinner and make sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
  6. Don’t Just Say No. Regardless of what sort of socially challenging show your child is putting on, be aware that just saying no, with no teaching and no ramifications, has been shown to be of little use. Before you even go out, discuss what you expect of your child and what the clearly defined consequences will be if he is unable to behave during the meal. Whatever you choose to use as a consequence, just make sure you’re willing and able to follow through—even if that means leaving the restaurant well before dinner has been served (see Tip #10).
  7. Take a Healthy Approach to Kids’ Meals. ordering off the kids’ menu can make your overall dining experience easier. The problem is that kids gravitate toward food they’re familiar with, and they quickly learn to order only off the kid’s menu—an ordering pattern that often becomes firmly entrenched and ensures that almost 100% of their entrées will consist of a very narrow range of not-so-healthy foods. Whenever possible, we suggest swapping out fries for a healthier side, skipping the free refills on soda altogether and ordering milk instead, and encouraging your child to broaden his horizons by looking beyond the confines of the kids’ menu and giving him the chance to taste foods off of your plate as well.
  8. Contain Costs. kids’ menus rarely offer a good deal when it comes to nutrition. We therefore suggest giving the following alternative cost-containment measures a try as well:
    1. Share and Share Alike. To give your child exposure to a wider range of food choices while giving your wallet a break, consider sharing an adult entrée.
    2. Downsize. Ask if you are able to order your child a scaled-down serving of an adult-sized entrée at a reduced price.
    3. Two for the Price of One. Take the approach of encouraging your child to eat only what he’s hungry for, and then take the rest home to serve at a later date.
  9. The Tipping Point. As a rough rule of thumb, your tip should be proportionate to the quality of family-friendly service you receive, the number of extra trips your server has to make to and from your table to accommodate your family’s needs, and the amount of mess you leave in your wake.

10.  The Take-Home Message. If and when you find yourself with a child who is too tired, too impatient, or too determined to break the sound barrier to sit quietly in his seat, it’s time to call it a night and try again later. In the meantime, you can always order takeout and practice at home. In doing so, you will join the ranks of most Americans who order more takeout meals than eat in the actual restaurants.


Author: Laura A. Jana, MD, FAAP and Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP

Source: Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed With Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup (Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics)


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