10 top tips for eating out with kids
If you’ve got a fussy eater, eating out at a restaurant or café can be something you dread or avoid. “What’s the point?” you might think. “It’s easier to stay at home and feed them something I know they’ll eat.” Here are some good habits to get into that will help make eating out as a family a more positive experience for everyone!
1. Don’t issue any warnings before you go.
Avoid saying things like “I want you to be good at the restaurant today” or “Promise me you’ll eat your meal this time”. Kids live up to expectations. If you show them you expect trouble, you’re more likely to get it!
2. Let them have their own menu to look at.
It makes them feel grown-up and involved, whether they can read yet or not. Also, encourage them to tell the waiter or waitress their order themselves once they can talk!
3. Don’t order tiny ones their own meal.
With under-twos (or up to four years old, depending on the appetite of your child!), the best thing to do is ask for an extra plate and give them bits and pieces from your own meals. This introduces them to a wide variety of food – and saves money and waste! It may mean they end up with half roast dinner, half mushroom risotto and a bit of cucumber and tomato, but little children don’t know or care about the ‘rules’ of what is and isn’t normally served together.
4. Ask the restaurant if they will do half portions of the adult meals.
Many restaurants and cafes will, even if they don’t say so on their menu. This opens out the choice a whole lot further than the (often very limited and ‘beige’) children’s menu – and doesn’t put the idea in their head that children can’t or shouldn’t eat the same food as adults!
5. Let them choose freely.
Don’t deliberately steer them towards a ‘safe bet’ like chicken nuggets or spag bol – or whatever you think they’re most likely to eat. If we want them to be adventurous and open-minded about food, we mustn’t impose limits! This may sound scary (“There’s no way they’re going to eat prawn linguine in a garlic and white wine sauce!” you might think) but when you give them the freedom and responsibility to choose what they fancy, it creates a kind of unspoken contract: I chose it, so I’m going to eat it.
6. Don’t make any judgement about what they choose.
Don’t undo the effect of letting them choose freely by saying things like “Fish and chips – are you sure? You don’t really like fish” or “But you didn’t eat the lasagne last time”. Keep those thoughts to yourself! Again, if you give them negative expectations to live up to, they’re likely to prove you right! Show trust in their choice instead.
7. Make it as much about togetherness as eating.
Talk together or play speaking games (“Guess which starter/dessert I’d choose off the menu” is a good one for older children!). If you are meeting friends and you know there’s going to be lots of adult chat, then take along pens and paper or activities to occupy them. If the food takes an unexpectedly long time to arrive, don’t expect them to have the patience of an adult. Find a way to engage them.
8. Don’t overly worry about what other people think.
Cut them a little slack when it comes to table manners. Let them enjoy their food in their own way. The customers at the other tables would rather see happy children with food on their face and bits falling on the floor than hear them being nagged to eat like an adult.
9. Remember that children’s meal portions vary hugely.
I’ve seen kids’ meals that would have left a mouse hungry – and kids’ meals that would have satisfied Henry VIII! Don’t judge how much they’ve eaten by the amount left on their plate. Let their appetite dictate how much they eat.
10. Don’t order dessert until after the main course is over.
If you tell the waiter what desserts you want at the start, your child may focus on and hanker after that throughout the main course. “This food is alright…” they might think. “But hey, I’ve got a chocolate ice-cream sundae with sprinkles and sauce coming next!”
NOTE: Of course, the usual Getting the Little Blighters to Eat approach applies in a restaurant or cafe as much as it does at home: No encouraging, pestering, coercing or bribing them to eat. When their food arrives at the table, say nothing more about it! If necessary, you could always ask the waiter to tie a tea towel round your mouth. 😉