toddler

Dining Out with Kids

Over the summer I got invited out to lunch with our playgroup for hard of hearing children. We were a large group – 20 of us. The service at the restaurant is notoriously slow and with such a large group it was slower that usual. It took a full 20 minutes for our orders to be taken and another hour before our food hit the table. That’s right, almost an hour and a half of sitting still before any food was delivered. It was a nightmare for a parent of small children –  and we were a table full of parents and small children.

By the time lunch finally arrived me and my kids were the only ones still sitting at the table. All the other moms and children were pacing the restaurant floor or had gone outside because they just couldn’t sit still.

Several of the moms asked how I got my kids to behave so well and my answer was very simple, I was prepared and we dine out often (and there was some luck involved because they aren’t always that well behaved).

I know dining out is stressful and it’s tempting to avoid dining out as a family altogether but sometimes, like I found out this summer, it’s unavoidable – for example, when you’re traveling or when another family invites you out. When those situations arise you want to make sure you child has had plenty of experience, lest you suffer epic public humiliation.

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Dining out with kids will always be hard but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible and it may even be enjoyable if you’re organized and well prepared. Here’s a few tips:

Establish ground rules. It’s important to establish that dining out is a privilege. It’s something special that you do together as a family and it is to be respected. Before you go discuss behavior expectations with your spouse/partner/co-parent and use those expectations to establish some ground rules.

Our rules are as follows:

  1. Once we’re seated our kids aren’t allowed out of their chairs unless they’re moving to a lap. No running around the table, playing on the floor, etc. The only exception to this rule is if we’re dining at a restaurant with a sand box, play area, etc.
  2. No raising your voice at the table – this includes loud talking, screaming, crying or anything else that may disturb other diners.
  3. Toys that we bring can be played with before our dinner arrives but as soon as the food hits the table the toys are put away. If the kids finish eating before the adults the toys can make a re-appearance.

Be prepared to enforce the rules in a restaurant environment, just as you would at home. Time outs are an important piece of my dining out arsenal – I will take my child outside and sit them down on the sidewalk for a time out if they’re not behaving. If they continue to misbehave once they return to the table then they go back outside. Yes, I’ve spent entire meals sitting outside on the sidewalk but it always pays off the next time we go out.

Time outs are especially effective in a restaurant environment because they serve multiple purposes:

  1. They remove the child from the situation giving them a break from whatever was causing the misbehavior.
  2. They give them a chance to calm down.
  3. They keep the other diners from experiencing your child’s misbehavior.
  4. They reinforce the concept of sitting at the table together in a restaurant as being special, if the child don’t behave they don’t get to participate.

Practice restaurant manners at home. Sit down at the table to eat as a family and enforce your restaurant rules at home. That means sitting at the table until everyone is finished eating and asking to be excused before getting up.

Practice! Dine out often, once a week if you can. By dining out in restaurants they’re familiar with, it gives the kids a chance to practice their eating out skills and table manners in an environment they’re comfortable with but still outside the home.

Have good timing. If your child missed their nap or is overly tired from a long day at school, you can’t expect them to sit still and quiet for an hour at dinner. When you go out, make sure your child is well rested and if they’re overly hungry feed them a small snack before you go. Tired and hungry kids are cranky kids!

Use tools to help make the experience easier. Minimizing the number of things that can go wrong is always a good thing. I always take a spare strap for the high chair (because they always seem to be broken) and some bendy straws, which I keep in a travel toothbrush holder. If you child can’t handle a cup with a straw take a sippy cup. Climbing out of the highchair and drink spills are now two things you no longer have to worry about!

Reserve some toys only for trips to restaurants. I have a bag of toys that are reserved especially for going out to eat. I keep them by the back door in my diaper bag bin for quick and easy access. The novelty of having these special toys also reinforces the “special” aspect of going out to eat.

When choosing special restaurant toys look for things that are small, flat and easy to shove in a diaper bag or purse. Yes, a tablet or phone falls into this category and I often rely on a tablet for pre-food entertainment with a few rules – tablets and phones are to be used for games only, no streaming videos and they follow the same rules as other toys. When dinner is served they are put away.

Get food FAST. If you’re at a restaurant that serves bread or chips when you’re seated then you’re in luck. If not, then consider ordering an appetizer to get something on the table. If you’re familiar with the menu, plan on making your ordering decision soon after sitting down – if you place your food order at the same time as your drink order you get double parenting bonus points.

Order easy food. Though I am a stickler for trying everything on your plate at home, a restaurant isn’t the place I want to have a battle over eating green beans. To reinforce the concept of dining out being a special event, I let them eat things they wouldn’t normally be offered at home. Corn dog? YES. French Fries? YES! Chocolate milk? YES PLEASE!

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Manage your expectations. You can’t expect your two year old to sit and play quietly with their special toys for an hour while you enjoy your meal in relative peace and quiet. Plan on interacting with your kids to keep them distracted. One of my favorite things to do is to practice origami with with the paper kid’s menus. There’s a ton of online tutorials on how to make paper flowers, cranes, etc. It’s a fun, quiet activity, kills a lot of time and they can play with the end result.

No matter how well behaved your child is you will have meals that are failures and unfortunately they are impossible to predict but that doesn’t mean you can’t go out and enjoy some good food with some good company! It just takes a little organization and practice to get there.

 

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Traveling with Kids

We’ve been traveling a lot lately – four of the last five weekends we’ve been out of town. We didn’t do this intentionally – it just happened.

The truth is we’ve never been ones to let our kids keep us from doing something. Though traveling with kids can be hard, a well organized parent will go a long way to keeping it enjoyable.

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Here’s a few tips for your adventure:

Make lists! Lists help my frazzled travel brain keep up with all the little loose ends that I might forget. Last year when Evie was 3.5 and Alvy was 18 months old we all went to Puerto Rico for a week. I made this worksheet to help me plan our packing.

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In the two weeks leading up to the trip, before I could actually start packing, I started brainstorming things we might need to take with us. It helped me plan how we were going to manage the kids and the things I would need to take to make sure the trip was successful. It was much easier to do this in the morning over a cup of coffee while my brain was fresh instead of while I was rushing around the house in a panic looking for Alvy’s other shoe.

Know your destination. Get on the internet, call the hotel, ask friends. Find out as much as you can about your destination. Does your hotel room have a pullout? Rollaway? Crib? Refrigerator? Continental breakfast? Coffee in the room? Restaurant in the lobby? Find out as much as you can so you can prepare for your stay. An informed parent is a prepared parent!

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Choose fewer bags! It’s much easier to juggle one larger bag than three smaller bags. Even for easy weekend road trips I take my rolling suitcase and pack the kids stuff in with mine. To keep everything separated I use packing cubes. The ones I got are from REI but you can find similar ones at Target.

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If you don’t want to buy packing cubes go get some mesh bags used for washing sweaters. I got some for $2 each at the grocery store. They’re also great for putting dirty laundry in your luggage.

Keep necessities close at hand. When we fly, I use my backpack as our diaper bag and put the Sugar Snap Files in to keep everything organized. They keep stuff from falling to the bottom of the backpack and getting lost, which happened a lot prior to using them. When I need to change Alvy’s diaper, all I have to do is grab the “Dipes + Wipes” file and I don’t have to lug my whole big backpack to the bathroom. The more I use them, the more I love these silly files.

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To keep messes at bay, I take a few baby wipes out of the package prior to leaving the house and put it in a zip top bag so I can put them in an outside pocket of my bag or in the seat back pocket on the plane. They’ve come in very handy when I’ve had to break out the emergency bag of mini Oreos to make it through the last 15 minutes of a flight – Momma needs supplies ready to clean up the aftermath, lest the plane window get smeared with Oreo hands!

For road trips I always keep napkins in a zip top baggie in the glove box, along with bendy straws stored in a toothbrush holder.

Pack food! Hungry kids are cranky kids! Snacks, stuff for sandwiches, cereal, etc. anything you can eat in a hotel room will save you money. Though eating out with kids is possible and sometimes enjoyable – no one wants to go through that kind of stress three times a day.

If you are flying and can’t take food with you try to visit a grocery store when you reach your destination so you can stock up.

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Utilize the car seat! If your kid is over two and has their own seat take your car seat on the plane. Not only is it safer but they’re used to sitting in it for long periods of time and it’ll keep your two year old from wanting to climb on you for four hours. If you’re flying with a lap child, before you board the plane ask the airline staff if the flight is full. If it’s not, they’re likely to let you take your car seat on board with you and relocate the passenger beside you so you can strap your child in an empty seat.

Take toys! Bigger toys are better for car travel and are easier to find in a messy hotel room. Small toys are better for plane travel.

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If you’re traveling by plane with more than one child remember that you may be split up. Each child needs their own bag of entertainment. When we fly each of our kids take their own backpacks which which are full of age appropriate toys for the flight.

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Protect their sleep! Take books they are familiar to them, any loveys they’re used to sleeping with and stick as closely to their sleep routine and schedule as you can manage. A well rested kid is a happy kid! Does your kid take afternoon naps? Plan your day around the nap – have fun in the morning and retreat to the hotel room for an family siesta then head back out in the evening.

A word on hotel cribs…they can be questionable or they can be awesome. There’s really no way to know until you get there. If your child is particular about their sleeping environment and you’re not flying I’d advise you to take your own crib if you can.

Manage your expectations! As with anything related to children they are unpredictable. Realize that you can’t take them to a nice dinner or on roller coasters. Don’t plan on doing something that you can’t do as a family. Know that maybe you won’t be able to go on that 10 mile hike through the rainforest and opt for the 45 minute tour instead.

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With a little careful planning and organization, traveling with kids isn’t just possible it’s enjoyable! There will be rough patches and it won’t be easy but it will be worth it in the memories you make! Go pack your bags and get ready for an adventure!

What are your favorite tips for traveling with kids? Do you have any favorite travel hacks?

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