Eating Out With Kids: 5 Simple Tricks That Save My Sanity

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Eating Out With My Three Kids: It could be the name of a comedy act, but in fact, it’s not. It’s my life. The restaurant scene that swore me off eating out with my kids forever! is engrained in my mind: spilled apple juice all over the table and my daughter’s leggings (“I’m wet, I’m wet,” she was crying). Crayons and toys and forks and knives and napkins littered on the floor under our table—and an older couple looking none to happy to have been put next to that family (what I’m sure they were thinking). When’s the food going to be here? I’m starving! my older son whining, even though we just placed the order. My husband yelling, We are never eating out again!

But the fact of the matter is: when you have kids, you need to eat out sometimes (particularly if you go on vacation). So I geared up this time and got prepared (mentally and physically)—and found that dining out with kids doesn’t have to be so bad. Here are the sanity-saving strategies that work for me:

1) Make a reservation, for as early as you possibly can. When we were in Florida, we didn’t make reservations. Big mistake. Even though we wanted to eat at 5 on the dot, we had forgotten that Florida is the home of early bird specials. Not only did we not get a seat, but the wait list was an hour plus long—so we drove around—with irritable, hungry, whining kids (and parents)—searching for food. Needless to say, we always plan in advance now and make a reservation unless we’re eating at a healthy chain restaurant (and then, we just go as early as possible to avoid crowds).

2) Bring plenty of activities for the kids. Sounds obvious. I know. But when things get crazy, families—like ours—forget as we’re running out the door. Now we keep plastic, zip-top bags (gallon size or larger) filled with crayons, markers, coloring books, and paper—ready to go—so if we’re eating out, we just have to grab that and bring it with us. It affords me, and my husband, a little bit of quality time to discuss one or two things before the kids chime in.

3) Plan in advance for your toddler. I keep another plastic zip-top bag (can you tell we’re big users of zip-tops in our house?!) ready to go with feeding essentials: a table or “plate” mat (NUK® makes a great! no-slide one that you just place on the table in front of your toddler so he eats right off the clean PlateMat™); toddler fork, spoon and knife (we use the ones from Gerber® Graduates®); and sippy cup. These ensure that my son will eat, without much of a big mess. Then I just pack it all up—smashed up food and all—and put back in the bag for washing later.

4) Lower your expectations. I know what to expect now—and I try not to expect any more than that!

5) When all else fails, have your Smartphone handy. I’m not a big proponent of families using their Smartphones at the dinner table, but I do know that when the food is taking a long time to come out…and the kids have exhausted all other things to do and are getting antsy (and annoying!), my iPhone is an absolute lifesaver.

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