10 Ideas for Dining Out with Kids! (plus 15 product ideas!)

Ok- I am going to cover a risky topic today :) I say "risky" because any time you offer advice over the internet as if you "have it figured out"- someone is bound to "bust you" doing the very thing you advise against! I would say that, MOST OF THE TIME, my girls are very good at eating out at restaurants- casual, fancy- you name it- MOST OF THE TIME they are very well behaved- we often get comments about how they act. I believe that they are this way because we have followed a plan with them from the moment they sit up in a high chair. Of course there are times when we have to "remove them from the situations" at restaurants- they have all had their moments. I went to lunch a month or so ago with my girlfriends and Milly- who is usually totally content to sit in the high chair for as long as we are at a restaurant- would NOT sit in the chair- she only wanted to be held- girlfriend had a mind to not sit and there was no stopping her. I was so frustrated- then we found out she had a double ear infection- so of course she wanted to be held all day! That is what I am saying- there is no perfect child and we all have times of..."should have stayed at home!!!" But I will share my "plan" with you of how I set my girls up for success at mealtime. (I am not saying they eat all of their veggies, haahaa :) One more thing- just because this matters to Dave and me does not mean it matters to YOU! If this is not important to you- do what you know to be best for YOUR family- this is simply something that is important to ME because I LOVE to go eat out and usually that includes a child or two or three! I will say- if they ever want to go on a date or a business meeting over a meal- they are going to have to know table manners- so we might as well start early-this is a skill they will use forever! 

1. Introducing the High Chair: when my girls are old enough to sit in the high chair (4-5 months) I sit them in there and put a toy or something on the tray while I cook dinner or fix lunch. They dont necessarily eat, but they are used to sitting up in the chair for a short period of time. Crying or whining is not a valid reason to get out of the high chair- we work on that from the start too! "All done" is the valid reason!
2. Introducing Solids: When you and your Doctor decide it is time for solids (usually rice cereal around 5 months), start sitting them in the high chair to eat...every time. Do not let them stick their fingers in it, etc.. start manners from day one. The moment you start allowing them to eat on your lap...it is over for you! (just kidding, but it will take a lot of re-training to get them back in the chair- of course there are times when you hold them and move forward!)
3. Practice at Home: I find that if I practice mealtime manners at home, it is a lot easier at restaurants. I think it is easy to be lax at home and then parents take their kids out and wonder why they are running around- well, do they get to run around at mealtime at home? Are they required to sit until everyone is finished at home? I just try to be consistent- I expect the same behavior at home as I do in a restaurant. It is a lot easier to give a "consequence" at home. 
4. Set them up for Success: of course their are exceptions, but if your child hasn't napped or is overly hungry or is sick...keep them home! Don't torture yourself or them by expecting them to behave at a restaurant if they will not be successful at it based on one of those (or other) factors. 
5. Set "rules": What is important to YOU at mealtime? Every parent is different with what matters to them. For ME, I have the following "rules": 
a) Keep voices at an appropriate level 
b) Stay seated at the table from the time we sit to the time when the last person is finished- this includes sitting in the chair in an appropriate way.
c) Keep "technology" to a minimum (of course there are times of "emergency"(see below) when we whip out the technology)- but the majority of the time- no technology 
d) Use utensils appropriately (of course age appropriate)- napkin in lap (we try for this!)
e) We work on basic manners- "pass or fail" it is good to work on them: napkin in lap, chewing with mouth closed, not reaching across the table, no elbows on the table, saying please and thank you to the servers, etc..
f) Respect: we do not play with the packets (usually) at the table or anything of the sort that might effect the next persons experience- I would hate to go to open a container of jelly to find that the kid before me smeared a miscellaneous substance on that packet- you see what I am saying- we just try to respect the restaurant and the people dining around us and after us. Do unto others....
6. Provide Entertainment: for babies, this is finger foods, little toys, etc.... for older kids we bring coloring books (or something similar) for them to do while they wait. (of course a good game of Eye Spy is a hit!) See ideas below. 
7. Have an "Emergency Plan": this is when you slip the IPad in the bag without this kids knowing, or load a new app on your phone just in case- this is LAST RESORT :) if you do this too early or often it comes to be expected- if you are ok with that, great. I say- "emergency" meaning if the service is very slow or you want to chat longer than you expect them to be able to sit- NOT emergency that they are being naughty. If you "reward" them with this when they are naughty- what is that saying?
8. Order Quickly: If you are at a restaurant- order quickly. Set them up for success on wait time. I have been known to look at the menu online before we go or even call ahead and order (I do that with Pizza) I try to be realistic about the amount of time I expect them to sit contently at the table. 
9. Timing/Reservations: I always try to pick places that let us call ahead or make a reservation. If they do not, I take timing in account- if you show up at Red Robin at 6pm on Friday night- your kids might be a disaster by the time you sit down because you just waited for 30 minutes to get the table! 
10. Respect: Have I mentioned that yet? haahaa For ME, mealtime is a good time to teach respect: respect for parents, others around us, restaurant employees, etc.. Its all "training" - Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

ALL of that being said- everyone has good times and bad times at restaurants- if you have a bad one, try again! I am never afraid to get a to-go box and start fresh the next time! Here are some of my favorite "Dining Out Products" (These are also my favorite Airplane products):

{I do not know how I fed the first two girls without food packets! :) Baby's R Us has the best pricing ($1 each) They are amazing for eating out! I like Plum because they have a great variety and they use grains in a lot of them- so you can get fruit, veggie and rice cereal or oatmeal or millet, etc.. they also have yogurt in some of them!}

{I always have a bag of Pirate's Booty with me! They are not messy and good for all ages}

{I also take Veggie Straws with me, if we are eating somewhere with "dips" and Milly cant do a tortilla chip or something, I just dip these right in and hand it to her!}

{I like these Mesh Feeders for Ice at restaurants- I can put Ice in it and hand it to Milly- great for teething}

{Baby Mum Mum is great for babies, I also Like Biter Biscuits- beware they are SO messy- but keep them occupied for a long time! I also cut up cucumbers and let them chew on those- frozen or regular}

{Color Wonder is fabulous for restaurants- they can color away without making a mess!}

{A friend gave one of these coloring "wallets"- Etsy has a lot of them- my girls feel like they have their own handbag when they get to carry it in with their own gear in it. If I don't have this, keeping a journal in your bag with some pens or markets will work too!}

{We love these crayons- they stay tidy in the case and these colored pencils- how smart are they for making them triangular- they wont roll off the table..Thank you!}
{Stickers or one of THESE books with reusable stickers are great! Faces, Habitats, Houses, Dress Up}

Hope that helps someone! Happy dining! 

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