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By: John Adams, author of
Posted on: Mar 1, 2019

Good Ideas for Eating Out with Kids

Some years ago, I had a boss with a young daughter. His child was kindergarden age and my boss would take great pleasure in telling me when he, his wife and daughter had been out to a restaurant together. He explained they did it at least once a month, purely so the little one could get used to eating in public and practice good manners.

I liked the guy’s logic. Dining out with kids is a great way to teach kids what's expected of them in public. My wife and I have eaten out with our kids since they were newborns. While we’ve had our challenges along the way, we’ve been out to many restaurants with our kids and usually had great experiences.

That said, I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of eating out and having our meals disturbed by other diners with unruly children. What can you do to make sure your experience dining out with kids is a success?

Based on my history of eating out with my family, here are a few ideas. I hope you find them useful.

Fun dining is better than fine dining with kids

I hate to break it to you, but a fine-dining experience isn’t necessarily a family friendly one. The atmosphere will be formal and kids prefer pizza and french fries over lobster and langoustine.

That doesn’t mean you have to eat badly. The biggest restaurant chains are usually very used to serving the family market and have a full range of salads, vegetarian and gluten free foods. Some better family restaurants also offer kids meals or a children's menu. Plus, they are used to the noise and are more likely to have highchairs and plastic cutlery that are more suitable for kids.

Here’s another tip I picked up from a mum I know: Eat Italian. The strong family culture in Italy means Italian restaurants are usually very welcoming and accommodating to people with kids (and they serve gelato!).

Fun dining must include the right amenities for your family. If you have small children in diapers, check the restrooms for Koala Kare changing tables with enhanced protection to keep them cleaner and fresher.
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Take something to entertain your children at the restaurant

You are settled in for a great dining experience and you’ve ordered food. Now what? That’s right, what can you do to keep your kids entertained while you are waiting for the food? If you’re an adult, you probably enjoy those few minutes of peace before the food arrives. This, however, is the prime time for children to play-up.

Take books for any youngsters to read, take colouring pens or maybe a pack of cards - all good quiet activities. Cards are a good choice that allows the whole family to get involved and be social. Being social is, of course, part of the joy of eating out with kids. You can keep entertaining items in a small bag in the car, just so you have them on-hand for spontaneous meals out.

Tired children? Get a take away instead

If your children are tired, it’s probably best you don’t eat out. My wife and I have made this mistake and it isn’t fun if your kids are bad tempered and impatient for their food. When they are hungry, good manners tend to go right out the window. In these instances it's best to consider the option of having a take away meal instead. Visit the website for your restaurant of choice and look for easy to-go options for your kids, like grilled cheese and french fries or fried chicken.

Special occasion? Make a reservation

I have memories of walking around and around a busy centre trying to find a restaurant meal with my wife, children, mother-in-law plus a family friend and her daughter. It was almost Christmas so the city was full of shoppers and everywhere we tried to eat was jam-packed.

In the end we had to give up and go home. The lesson I learned on that occasion was to make a reservation. The city was obviously going to be busy and we should have planned in advance. It's definitely easier to make this call before you head out and drag your little ones all over time looking for a restaurant. Many restaurants now also offer options for "getting in line" via online services or apps. This can save time and trouble once you arrive.

Eat at quieter times

If your children are young, they’re probably in the habit of eating quite early, say about midday for lunch and six pm for an evening meal. This has its benefits as restaurants are often quieter and you should get served at greater speed. Go with when your children want to eat and you should have a more relaxing meal. It will be easier to find menu items they are interested in and they will be too busy focusing on their food to cause any disruption.

Don’t order too much food

Children will tell you they want to eat everything on the menu. When my kids were younger, I made the mistake of ordering them everything they wanted, only for much of it to be wasted.

If the place you’re eating in doesn’t have a kids’ menu, order your little one a starter or a side dish to have as a main dish. Also, ask your server how big the portions are. You’ll then have an idea how much to order. When it comes to dishes like mashed potatoes and mac n cheese, some restaurants go with the "more is better" mentality. Remember what you were told as a kid: Have a little and come back for more!

Download the restaurant app

As a family, we have saved a fortune using our favourite restaurant’s smartphone app. Not only can you book a table and pay using the app, but, more often than not, app users get QR codes that give them a discount when paying the bill. If you don’t use the app, you don’t get the discount. Knowing that visiting restaurants with kids also tends to be more expensive, these small savings can really add up - especially if you eat out with kids frequently.

Have a great meal!

I hope you find those ideas useful. As I say, those are some suggestions based on my experience. I have many happy memories of eating out with my family so go out, eat great food and enjoy your time together.