Top 5 Tips on Eating out with Young Kids
We live in France. Before we moved here from the UK I read the book "French Children don't Throw Food". Oh Crumbs!
I remember my mum telling me that it took many years for my sister and I to learn how to behave eating out in restaurants, because they rarely took us to them. With those words resonating in my mind we resolved as a family to eat out in restaurants as much as we could so our children were used to it and knew how to behave.
Well... that was the theory!
In Paris, we have found that restaurants are very welcoming to young children, but are not necessarily accommodating. Changing facilities and high chairs are somewhat of a luxurious find. Despite this, the French eat out with children a lot in "proper" restaurants, and it's not unusual to see families eating our together even late into the evening.
It's a cultural thing, and I rather like it.
Of course, as with all things child related, our experiences have met with varying success. Nevertheless we keep on trying!
Here are my Top 5 Tips to share with you of tactics that work:
Pick your restaurant carefully. If when you try to book, or arrive, you get the feeling your children aren't really welcome - find somewhere else. The attitude of the people working in the restaurant are the people most likely to make you all feel comfortable.
Once you are welcomed by the restaurant - RELAX. If your kids behave... well like kids often can... then remember, they are kids! Do not worry about people around you too much, just do the best you can. My experience is if you start to get uptight, their behaviour will just get worse. Take into account all of the rest of my tips below and you should be well prepared. Then cross your fingers it goes smoothly!
Young children, in fact children of all ages, are all about energy management. Feed them at the right times, and recognise when they need to rest - and you're onto a winner.
So, book your meal for a time that that you know will work with your little ones. You don't want them to be starving when you arrive - it will spiral into chaos and no one will have any fun. It's not their fault - they will just be past it.
Take into account also that it will take a little while for food to arrive. Maybe get theirs ordered first, to come with your starter - things like that can really help.
I'm a big planner. I'm possibly the queen of planning! I like to have several plans to cover all eventualities. When I know they are in place....I go with the flow. Because I know, pretty much whatever may happen - I'm READY!!
Check out the menu online too - see if there is a kids menu. Is it inspiring? Take a look around at portion sizes. Sometimes with my kids we order one normal main course, and the two of them share it between themselves, or we give them some off our plate (which is a good way to test new flavours). We do this to avoid the chicken nuggets and chips option that they might otherwise be faced with. That said, sometimes this is exactly what they want (usually steak hache though!). Eating in restaurants with young children is probably not the time to experiment with new tastes as their only option! Keep them as happy as you can and things will run more smoothly.
Sometimes, especially if we are familiar with the restaurant, I pre order the kids meal so it will be ready for when we get there.
Don't leave facilities to chance if you don't know... take your own booster/tot seat, wipes, bibs, beakers, small sized cutlery, charge up the Firepads/iPads, and take some small non filling snacks to keep little tummies from grumbling whilst you are waiting.
If your baby is small and it would be a waste to buy them a meal, take their food and drinks with you. This also avoids any delay. Pouch meals are really convenient, but you could also take something home made in a Thermos. Although if needed, most restaurants are happy to warm something up for you.
With toddlers, this is PARAMOUNT! Until about the age of 2.5, we almost always buckled ours down in a restaurant - even though they were sitting on little chairs independently at home long before this. I wasn't one to leave to chance them having a crazy half hour and running around like feral beasts (sound like I am speaking from experience? Yes. It can be stressful). If you don't have a Totseat or booster seat with you, and the restaurant doesn't have a highchair; try using your pushchair. Whatever you do - strap 'em down!
Don't arrive empty handed. I always have a small plastic bag in my handbag which has crayons and scraps of paper for colouring on (e.g. junk mail letters ripped in half so they can use the backs, used envelopes) and some stickers in. Mini puzzles can be good too for preschoolers/older children. I also have some small plastic crocodile pincers in my handbag, but you could easily use a clothes peg. The kids will be absorbed for a while picking up and moving around scraps of paper, or anything that is to hand. I use these all the time, on trains etc.
But my golden tip is - use an iPad/"Firepad". One per child if you have it. Failing this, have some episodes of Peppa Pig (or whatever is their tipple) on your phone ready to prop up and play. My view: this is not the forum to be worrying about "screen time", or what other people may think, if you want to enjoy a meal too. Quite simply - this works, perhaps especially so if it is a novelty, but even if not. Of course be mindful of the volume - Peppa Pig annoying to anyone over the age of 5ish!
Don't peak too soon with it either - I try and use my crayons, stickers and pincers first, then they eat, then they get their Firepads whilst we eat. Ok sometimes the iPads come out a lot sooner - but this is the aim!
Whilst in a romanticised ideal world you would all sit around the table and have cute conversations whilst the kids are charming - I have not found this to be our reality. My kids will only be entertained by colouring/stickers for a short burst. Without the iPads my husband and I would be forced to wolf our meals down in order to leave the restaurant as soon as possible.
Good Luck. Enjoy the grub!
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