When to start Eating Out with Young Children
It’s never too soon to start taking your children out to restaurants with you.
In fact, the earlier the age they start, the more likely it is they’ll develop good restaurant behaviours in their older childhood years.
However, while this can be a great experience for the whole family, it can sometimes bring with it a set of challenges. The overall motto is “Be Prepared!”.
No baby or child is too young to eat out with its parents and family.
True, some restaurants are a little more welcoming of younger children than others but most will usually bend over backwards to help you and your child enjoy your visit.
Many parents fret about taking very young kids to a restaurant. Their fears normally come under one of the following headings of “my child…”:
- won’t eat the food;
- will get bored, then play up and embarrass me;
- might cry and disturb other diners;
- could generate some unpleasant odours after an ‘accident’!
Nice as it would be to say none of these things is likely, that might be overly optimistic.
However, a few basic steps might help avoid all or at least the worst effects of the above.
Children have a built-in survival instinct which leads to them being suspicious of food they’re unfamiliar with. There is nothing wrong with that.
So, if you’re visiting a restaurant serving a cuisine they’ve not seen much of before, talk them through it beforehand and show them some pictures.
Most restaurants today will also prepare kids’ meals to parental requirements.
Younger children aren’t renowned for their patient dinner conversation. They have limited attention spans.
You can help by taking a few low-keys toys with you, such as crayons and colouring books, a soft toy or some small building bricks etc. Avoid toys that generate noise.
Try to keep your children at the table and interested in what’s going on around them. It’s best to avoid or limit their use of those play areas that some restaurants now offer. The risk is that they encourage your child to think the table is something to be escaped from and it might negatively influence their future behaviours in restaurants that don’t offer play areas.
Most parents will already know how to soothe their babies.
Try to make sure you’ve done everything to avoid things that might cause them to cry – such as changing their nappy beforehand and having spares and wipes to hand just in case. Don’t forget to bring their own food!
If they do start crying, it’s probably best to take them to the toilets or outside until they’re settled.
Nappies and such
All parents have experienced the baby or younger child who has had a ‘little accident’ in a closed public space with all the odour embarrassment that can bring!
There’s not a lot you can do to guarantee this won’t happen but:
- try to make sure they went before you left home;
- do likewise immediately you arrive in the restaurant – even if they say they don’t need it or the visit isn’t ‘productive’;
- do so again in between courses;
- whatever else, remember to take spare nappies, undergarments, trousers skirts or whatever – just in case!
Have a pre-departure checklist
Finally, create a list of things you need to take with you to a restaurant.
This will change over time as you learn and also as your child ages. For example, some basic first-aid items are invaluable to deal with grazed knees, running noses, splinters plus all the other little ailments that always seem to arise just about 30 seconds before you enter the restaurant.
Above all, show your children that you’ve enjoyed the experience and their company. It’ll help for the next time.