Eating Out with Kids

We don’t eat out very often with two young kids, ages four and 13 months, but when we do, we focus on healthy and wholesome options, and reinforcing good behavior in restaurants (particularly for the four-year-old).
After a long morning, and afternoon, at the gym we made a last minute decision to grab Elevation Burger for dinner. Elevation Burger is one of our favorite spots to frequent due to its standards for organic and grass fed meats, and laid back atmosphere. Elevation burger is a hybrid of fast food and dining in, similar to chipotle.
Eating out with tired and hungry kids can feel like carrying a bomb around in your bag that you know is going to explode but you are not sure when it will happen. Luckily we made it out of the restaurant without the bomb exploding. I thought I would share some ideas for how my family has made it out alive, for this trip and others.
  1. Our kids eat real food. Our 13-month old began making the transition to solids around six months. We started with homemade chicken broth, and moved on to pureed vegetables cooked in broth. Next we introduced meats, as he gained dexterity to pick up food on his own, and chew and swallow chunkier foods. The sooner babies make the transition to real food, the better. This means for less specialty meal preparation for baby, and assuming the parents are choosing healthy options for themselves, baby can eat the same foods in smaller bites.
  2. Our kids are not very picky. Yes they whine and complain from time to time, and they are not always happy with the meal that is served. However we encourage our kids to try a new or unfamiliar food at least once, and often they are pleased when they find something they like. They are mostly distracted by the novelty of eating out to be complaining about the food.
  3. We used bribery. I hate to admit that we use the old … eat two bites of this and you can have some of that. I know you should never encourage relationships with food that involve bargaining, but it usually works. I believe kids make poor choices. Our 4-year-old is like many others. He will eat only french fries for dinner if the opportunity presented itself. So we usually get an order of fries to share, and they are available after the burger is finished.
  4. Given choices, but not too many. Children change their mind, sometimes in an effort to please their parents, and sometimes in an effort to defy them. Ordering for your child without offering options can lead to a fight that you don’t want to have. Giving too many choices can be overwhelming and upsetting, especially for small children. With elementary aged kids try giving two pairs of options: chicken or burger? with cheese or lettuce? When your child feels involved in the decision her or she may be more likely to eat it.
  5. Go places where kids are welcome. Yes, it’s helpful if the place has crayons or least booster seats available, but its not a requirement. This does not mean you need to limit your dining options to chuck-e-cheese (please don’t!!), but it is less stressful when other diners are not shocked by random wailing, loud laughter, or crumb covered table that sometimes occur with young diners.
  6. Pick your battles. No kids behave perfectly when they go out. But it’s important to let some things go, and have the fight about it at home. Your kid asked the waiter for a new fork because he dropped his for the 4th time. He spilled a glass of water after being told not to play with it. Her younger sibling just ate the last roll, and he is having an absolute fit about it. Not every undesirable behavior is worth the argument. However, a discussion about it on the ride home may be warranted. Choosing restaurants where you can pay ahead is nice because then you can just pick up and leave if the misbehavior cannot be ignored.
All food should be nourishing for the body. Too often in our society we eat calories for comfort or pleasure. We put “food” into our body with little or no nutritional value, and we feel poorly when we eat poorly. When children eat nourishing foods they feel better, and thus complain less. When children eat less sugar and sweets, they are more agreeable, less hyperactive, and more fun to be around. If you are heading out to dinner with your family enjoy your time together. Try to avoid dining out with kids that are overtired or extremely hungry. And hope the bomb doesn’t explode before the check arrives!

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