Dining out with children does not have to mean happy meals and indoor play areas. I’m not knocking those places, we love them but I am here to say go to the places you love and take your children. Trust me, it will be ok. It is possible to skip the babysitter and enjoy the dining experience with children at your favorite restaurants. I have found a few tested and true ways that my family enjoys meals out together.
Start the tradition in early childhood
I’ve never been one to follow all the rules so I was not one of those moms secluded in their home for a month with a newborn. Some may call me crazy but my daughter experienced her first restaurant at three weeks old.
My brother called one morning with the best news, his flight from Hawaii to the mainland was going to include a layover in Los Angeles. Imagine my surprise and excitement that he would meet our little munchkin. After several outfit changes for both myself and my daughter we made our way to Fig & Olive restaurant in West Hollywood. I enjoyed every minute from the amazing food to nonstop conversation.
What is the #1 activity for newborn babies? Sleep! That is exactly what my daughter did during that memorable family meal.
My advice to new moms, go out and enjoy yourself with your family. What is the worst that can happen, your newborn cries and you leave? Somewhere between the walk in the door and the crying, you may get one of the best meals of your life.
Creating good habits begins early in life and the same applies to learning how to behave in public places. I recommend starting your dining out experience early to get your little ones used to restaurants.
Timing is everything – Newborns & Infants vs Toddler Years
Go to the restaurant at the perfect time for your child. I learned the hard way and I cannot stress how important it is to keep your child on their schedule. Delaying a nap to make a dinner reservation will not equal a fun experience for anyone at the table (or in the restaurant).
Early on in motherhood I had a hard time adapting to the changes around our home. Eating not when hungry but more when convenient was the toughest. I didn’t realize how set in my own schedule I had become and lunch after 1 pm seemed like a torture situation. Reality of a newborn hit me hard and soon her schedule outranked mine.
As my daughter grows, her schedule is more flexible. Naps are pretty nonexistent and the meal periods extended. When dining out with my child now, we go at an off time for the restaurant. Going to your favorite place during peak hours can be stressful and just not possible with your children.
Choosing times that are less crowded like late afternoon or early evening allows for breathing room. I mean this literally. Give yourself a buffer of table space and less noise for your child’s voice to compete with. I notice when I take my daughter to bustling places, she talks louder and louder to speak over every other noise. I’ve also found the restaurant staff to be more accommodating and patient with us when it’s not the peak rush during the day.
You pick the place
When I became a mom it never occurred to me trade my farm to table eateries for family friendly restaurants. When you are happy and comfortable, you set the tone. I’ve seen how my mood impacts my daughter and this includes picking the right restaurant and making it fun for all.
Take off your parent blinders
Your view of the situation is skewed and may not be totally correct. You’re hyper-aware of your child’s voice, actions, etc. and the reality may be quite different. I was getting frustrated by my daughter loudly detailing her activity sheet and started to look around to see if I was getting glares. That’s when my blinders came off and I noticed people were in their own little bubbles in the restaurant.
Let your little one be part of the dining experience
Let your children explore and choose from the kid’s menu. Obviously this is within reason and may have some boundaries based on food allergies, tummy troubles, etc.
My parents always empowered me to be a little lady dining out and I loved that feeling. So I’m guessing it’s from my childhood freedom that it saddens me when I hear parents immediately talk over their child to the waitress. It almost always leads to a child and parent meltdown and annoyed fellow diners. It just doesn’t have to be that way. When you give your little one the power to choose from a few items, it gets them excited to eat out.
Weekend brunches with my girlfriends were a big part of my pre-baby stage and guess what, the tradition carries on today. I would love to hear your dining out stories with your family. What works for you? What challenges are you facing trying to enjoy meals out?