We eat out a lot. What can I say? My husband and I love food. And, after working a full day and getting the kids through their homework, I’m pooped. I’m just too tired to cook. My husband heard a comedian tell this joke about how when Mom yells “Time for Dinner!” the kids run to the car. He thinks it’s hilaaaaarious. However, I’m too tired to feel guilty that my son once asked me if I knew how to cook. (BTW, I’m a great cook … on the weekend.) During the week, I want and deserve a good meal. But, when you go out to eat you want to make sure that the evening doesn’t deteriorate or add more stress to your life because the kids are bored and unruly.
So, here are some tips to not only survive but thrive eating out at restaurants with your kids, from the Kirchners, Masters of Eating Out. (It’s an official title. I looked it up.)
1. Choose Wisely. Don’t go to a restaurant where you will have to wait a long time. I don’t care if you are hankering for that special steak at Bistro X. When you have kids with you, no food is worth an extra hour of wait. You also don’t want them falling off of the stools in the bar, while you wait an hour for a table. Even if your son thinks that’s fun. Don’t. If you live in Chicago, don’t go out for deep dish pizza. It’s not worth the wait. That is Take-Out Food!
Pick a restaurant that you know has a kids menu. Call ahead. Play it safe. Especially if you are out of town on vacation and dining out. If you don’t do your homework, then I hope you have read “How to Con Your Kid” by David Borgenicht and James Grace. Tell them that the calamari are really fried rubber bands. They might go for that.
2. Bring Your Own Entertainment. Don’t count on the three crayons and preprinted coloring pages keeping anyone amused. My son thinks the games are lame. My daughter, the artist, is infuriated that they don’t give her white space to create. “Don’t they understand that I need room to draw a proper unicorn?” Our family does so much better with plain paper and some type of writing device – pen, colored pencils, crayons, eyeliner. Choose your weapon of creativity wisely. Bring plain typing paper and colored pencils. Or one of our best selling items at the Chocolate Cake Club are the Kids Art-to-Go Folios Paper & Crayon Sets. These cute little sets include a pad of blank paper, crayons, a handle perfect for small hands, and a fun fabric print to kick start creativity.
These fun kids travel art sets were featured in Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine’s May 2008 issue. We like it because the kids can draw, play hangman or write a letter to the dog about how they wish he were there.
3. Time it right. If you have a baby, give the baby his or her bottle right before you eat. That way the baby can slip into a food coma and the rest of the table can then enjoy their food. If the baby doesn’t slip into a food coma, you’ll need to take turns eating. If you think that is going to happen, then order a salad. It won’t go cold. With toddlers, make sure you eat at a time when they won’t get too cranky or be forced to stay out too late. If friends who don’t have kids want to eat out with you, don’t feel bad setting an earlier time for dinner.
4. Be Creative. Use the items on the table to make a fort for your son’s toys. You will need to pick this up before the food arrives, but my kids love to have their toys play in the sugar packet holder, coffee cups, jelly holder, or butter bowls on the table. We love to build a train out of the little jelly packets when we go out for breakfast. The creamer containers make a great smoke stack. Feel free to use the materials at hand to build and imagine.
5. When in doubt, read. I don’t mind reading to the kids while we are sitting at the table. It keeps them quiet and sometimes the people at the table next to us pull up a chair to find out if Bear will indeed Snore On.
6. Invite friends. While you might think that the last thing you want is to have your friends observe how your kids behave in public, we say the more the merrier. The kids will amuse each other, the adults can take turns keeping control, and you feel less guilt about the mess you made at the table when the blame is spread out over more than one family. It’s good for everyone except the waiter or waitress. But tip big and they’ll forgive you.
Have fun eating out tonight! Don’t forget to order Chocolate Cake. Tell us what works for you when going out to eat.