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How to Dine at a Restaurant with Your Preschooler

by Michele | September 30th, 2014 | Preschool, Social

bear-16802_1280Going to a restaurant with a young child can be a parent’s worst nightmare.  The wait!  The menu choices! The other guests! However, it doesn’t have to be that way.  I started taking my children to restaurants when they were very young (about one year old), and they were good diners who did not bother other guests.  There were no grand prizes promised for good behavior, just some common sense put into practice.

Before going to a restaurant

  1. Evaluate your child’s dining skills at home. Do you expect your child to sit in his chair, highchair, or booster seat for the meal? If not, going to a restaurant probably won’t work.  If he can sit in a chair for 15 minutes, a restaurant trip may be in store.
  2. Start with lunch at a restaurant, if it doesn’t interfere with naptime.  Lunches tend to be less busy, which means food will be delivered more quickly to your table.

Going to the restaurant

  1. Choose a restaurant that will have food items your child enjoys and that feels child-friendly. If they have paper placemats and crayons, they probably are a winner.
  2. Explain to your child that she needs to sit in her chair, booster seat, highchair, just like at home. However, as this meal will be longer, the occasional break to walk to the bathroom is a good plan.
  3. Review the menu soon after sitting. Talk with your child about food choices. Since dining out is a treat, this is a good time to let them have a special item like french fries or chocolate milk.
  4. Be creative. While waiting for the food, play games like I spy.
  5. Pack your own crayons and paper or a book. Draw a picture together while you wait.
  6. Once food arrives, get your child situated by cutting up his food, but don’t forget to eat yours! At home, you should be eating at the same time, so the restaurant should be the same.
  7. If needed, remind your child about using indoor voices or sitting nicely at the table. Also, talk about how grown-up she is while eating at a restaurant. Be sure she understands this is a privilege and a treat.

I really didn’t find restaurant dining with my children to be overwhelming. The excitement of ordering from a menu and getting different food than at home was fun for the kids. They understood what was expected of them behavior-wise and wanted to be able to return to a restaurant in the future, so they put their best behavior forward.

Just set good expectations for your children’s behavior (and follow through on those expectations), and going to the restaurant with your children can be enjoyable for all.

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