We eat out with our daughter very often and we started (read: continued doing what we always liked to do) when she was a newborn. This meant sometimes one of us had to hold and rock her while the other gobbled down the meal in a hurry. My husband works from home a lot so it’s important for him to get out of the house once a day and most likely we’ll end up in a restaurant somewhere.
We recently moved to Tallinn and have already discovered plenty local family friendly restaurants. What I really like here is that lots of cafes and restaurants have a corner for kids to play in so once she’s done eating we can send her off to play while we empty our plates and enjoy a glass of wine.
From our own experience here are a few quite basic but important dos and don’ts:
- Do it, just do it! I was incredibly proud of myself when I got out of the house and managed to have a meal outside when she was just a few weeks old. Sometimes she’d wake up as soon as I walked into the restaurant and I didn’t have the most relaxing time but more often than that she napped happily in the pram while I could eat with two hands! 🙂 The older they get the more used to the social environment they get and the more they pick up – she pretends to order from the menu, does cheers with her water glass, and lines her utensils up on the plate once she’s finished. Great table manners already.
- Do your research before and get acquainted with the menu if you can, making sure that there is something that your child eats. I wasn’t a huge fan of kids’ menus in the UK, they tended to involve very boring choices, such as spaghetti bolognese, fish and chips or some other boring versions, so quite often we ordered our courses and got a spare plate to share what we had. It’s better here, in Tallinn, so far. The kids’ choices are smaller versions of adults’ portions. Why should kids eat differently?!
- Do bring distractions. Not all restaurants provide toys and games so have a bag ready with paper, crayons, pencils, books – whatever keeps them busy while you’re waiting for food or they’ve finished eating. Our daughter’s favourites are stickers books and I always keep one in the stroller, works wonders. We aren’t big fans of using screens as distractions during mealtimes, so no iPads or phones needed in our case but some families swear to this method too.
- Don’t alter the schedule. If the dinner is normally around 6pm then make sure you eat at the same time in a restaurant. Not the best idea to try to have a good time when they’ve missed a nap or it’s too close to their bedtime. You’re just doing yourself, everyone else and most importantly your child a favour! You can’t expect them to behave when they’re tired, right?
- Don’t stay too long or don’t be afraid to just leave if you’re no longer having fun, can sense a tantrum coming or things are already pear-shaped. Ask your leftovers to be packed up to be taken home and enjoy it at home later 🙂 .
- Don’t forget to teach manners. This is a great opportunity to build on what you’ve taught at home. Keep them engaged at the table / in the high chair as long as you can, encourage them to use the utensils properly, drink from glassware (at your own risk! I trust her with drinking glasses already), have a conversation, tell stories and jokes – make the whole experience fun and enjoyable.
Eating out isn’t always relaxing but 9 out of 10 times we both really enjoy it and we get excited about her trying new dishes. Here’s our seasoned restaurant-goer:
I strongly believe that because we have exposed her to so many dining experiences she knows how to behave relatively well in a restaurant and eats well. I know she’s only two but it’s impressive to see how adventurous her taste buds are, she actually eats more than at home. Her early restaurant visits have influenced her in the most positive way and I’m glad we’ve taken her on our culinary journey.