I'm beginning to think I should change my profile to "food mom" on this site as it seems I only post about eating. I swear I do more than just eat and feed my kids. I need to choose different topics to share. Oh well, I'll set my reputation aside today because I wanted to address one of those new-parent mysteries:kids in restaurants. I know, not exactly a heavy topic for a hospital website, but if you're anything like we were as new parents, getting out is very important.
I remember when I had my first child I envied those moms who just toted their babies in that carrier and didn't miss a beat of their old life. On the rare occasions where I did sneak out, I would see these moms. They would sit for hours chatting with friends or spouses at a table while their babies cooed in infant car seats nearby or slept peacefully in slings that somehow never seemed in the way of mom's eating or drinking.
I was not that mom. It took everything I had just to get us both bathed and dressed much less out and about for any length of time. I thought if I ever attempted a meal out again it would have to be after I left my kid with a babysitter.
Well, I am here to tell you that not only did we did make it out with one, but we continue to get out as a family now-even with three active kids. There are a few tricks I've learned to make the meal a success for everyone. I hope they help you get away from carryout now and then.
- Choose kid-friendly places. This seems like a no brainer, but I'm consistently surprised (and frankly annoyed) when I do go somewhere with just my husband and there are kids running around or screaming. I know I'm a mom, but sometimes I want a meal without kids and on those nights I choose places that seem like they should be child-free. I'm not saying the place you choose has to be Chuck E Cheese every time, but I am saying maybe steer clear of your favorite French Bistro with little ones in tow. Understand that as parents you are setting everyone up for a miserable time-yourselves and the other patrons-if you go to a restaurant where kids will be bored or stick out like loud little maniacs just for being themselves. Choose a restaurants where the noise level acomodates kids and the service is family friendly-meaning fast and efficient. This is not your leisurely meal and if the servers and cooks know that, you're golden.
- Plan according to your normal routine. Lunch with a baby in a carrier during nap time is great if you time it so they fall asleep en route and transfer without a hitch. Lunch with a toddler during nap time or an overtired baby at bedtime is probably going to end with food in doggie bags and maybe tears (theirs and yours). If you and your partner normally have dinner after you put the baby to bed, don't try for a meal out at the same time with an awake baby. That doesn't end well for anyone. Eat early or eat late. Just make sure you think about what you'd be doing if you were home and if it can't be accomplished in the restaurant or postponed for the meal time you have to change the plan.
- Set realistic expectations for you and the wee ones. This is most likely not total relaxation time for you. If you've a sleeping infant for company, you might get a nice long dinner and real conversation but be prepared you might have to skip coffee and dessert to race home and feed or change a blowout. If you're kids are older, they won't last long anywhere, especially if they're not adequately entertained. Don't expect major conversations with your partner at dinner with toddlers. Expect some quick antedotes in between bites and crawling around for crayons. If you know what you're getting into, the night will be more enjoyable for everyone.
- Communicate your expectations. Clearly, you can't explain to a baby the rules for inside voices, but you can start very early with toddlers and preschoolers with lessons on how to act when they are out. Engage them in ordering, with proper pleases and thank yous. Remind them before you leave that they are to sit throughout the meal and then can run around outside after dinner. I love tall booths so that little people can stand up without bothering other patrons. Let kids know what's expected in a restaurant. They are usually capable of meeting your expectations if they know what they are ahead of time. Be sure to help them with their behavior by bringing distractions for them. This brings me to the last point.
- Pack a bag. Set your kids up for success and you for a stress free meal by bringing distractions. Don't count on the establishment to have crayons, bring your own. We have special pads and pens (ooh pens!) for use only when we're out and about. We have a couple travel games. We also love I spy. I have books for the littlest man while my olders are now expected to participate in the meal conversation. When mine were babies, I brought board books, teething cookies and more cheerios than you could shake a stick at. There were any number of rattles, trains or cars and small plush toys that made the rotation as well. Just be prepared to pick those toys off the floor two thousand times because that's approximately the amount of times a baby will throw them during a standard meal.
The bottom line for eating out with kids is that while it's not the same as date night or drinks with friends, it can be fun for everyone, with a little advanced leg work and realistic expectations for everyone involved.