I don’t generally have high expectations for Mother’s Day but this year I had none at all. I was away with my two children and my sister for a weekend wedding, so I knew there was no chance of a sleep-in or the conventional mother’s day breakfast in bed. Instead we went to Porters Cafe in downtown Bathurst for breakfast with the bride and groom and most of the other wedding guests. If I’m going to eat out with children, breakfast is definitely the meal I would opt for. It’s the only time of day you can order toast for your kid without anybody thinking that’s strange! I actually forgot it was Mother’s Day at all. But I know that families all over the country were taking Mum out for breakfast, lunch and dinner as a relaxing “treat”. Ha! Eating out with little kids is rarely relaxing. We’ve had quite a few disasters trying to eat out with kids, but two in particular spring to mind.
The first was when Birdy was almost 2. We were on holidays at Narooma and we wanted a night off from cooking. We went to a well-known Mexican restaurant and ordered nachos for Caillie, thinking that would be a good choice for a child. They brought out a mountain of food, swimming in sour cream and a hundred different sauces, they placed it in front of her and she took one look at it and burst into tears. It was just all too much.
Anyway a few years have passed and these memories were growing slightly dim so we attempted to go out for Mexican again recently with our 5 year old and the baby. The baby was fine, but Birdy spent the entire time sulking, saying that she wanted to go home and refused to even try the food. We were only out for a total of about an hour and the only bit that was relaxing was the walk there and back.
The only time that Birdy has enjoyed eating out has been when we’ve gone to the pub. We’ve taken her to 3 or 4 different pubs and she’s tucked into a steak with great gusto and even tried to order another one. I think she takes after her Dad in that she only wants to eat steak and chips at the pub. And that’s OK every now and then, but you don’t want to be taking your kids to the pub every weekend. The other thing that works for us is breakfast at our local cafe. But eating dinner out has definitely been a challenge.
OK so I’ve had a few disasters, but I have learnt something from that… Here are my tips for eating out successfully with kids.
1. Choose a child friendly location – somewhere with space to run around and where the music’s not too loud. Noisy echoey restaurants with loud music can be overwhelming.
2. Check the menu ahead. Is there a kids menu? A kids Menu is a signal that kids are welcome, but also the food is more likely to be appropriate for children. Both those Mexican places we went to didn’t have a Kids Menu and the food just wasn’t appropriate for small children.
3. Go out early, rather than late so they’re not too tired and hungry. Unfortunately we often decide to eat out precisely because it is getting late and we don’t have anything prepared. That’s not a good time to go out.
4. Give your children some practice by going out for breakfast or brunch in places where the menu isn’t too challenging. Children generally cope better with challenges in the morning.
5. Go for Café’s rather than restaurants – There’s nothing worse than having to bail half way through a meal that you’ve just forked out $150 for. In most cafes, there’s less pressure on the kids to behave perfectly. And they’re less likely to mind if you pull out the colouring in halfway through the meal.
6. Go local and predictable – Little kids like familiar places. So find somewhere you can make your own. Italian is always good. I don’t think there’s a kid in the world who doesn’t like pizza and spaghetti Bolognese. Most of our disasters have been when we’ve been on holidays, somewhere unfamiliar.
We need to remember that children aren’t mini-adults and it’s not realistic to expect them to be. Eating out is a learned skill. Some kids find it difficult and struggle with food that’s different. Don’t expect too much of them. After our last attempt, I came away thinking it might be better to have pizza at home with the kids and save the dining out for when we can get a babysitter. Then everybody’s happy.
Do you enjoy eating out with your kids? Which meals work best for your family? Do you have a favourite restaurant or cafe your children enjoy?