by Jane Gaither
While most restaurants welcome families by providing kid menus, crayons, activity sheets and the like, for the youngest set, eating out can be tiresome. This is especially true for a toddler in a restaurant who wants to escape from his highchair to visit other tables — and that means a headache for you!
“If my son – who’s 2-and-a-half – could just play with the sugar packets and throw salt everywhere, he’d be fine,” says Mandy Dickens, a Nashville mother of two. “But being in a restaurant, we have to keep the reigns on him, and he gets bored and frustrated.”
Fortunately, there are simple tips for eating out with kids in Nashville or the surrounding area that can make it more enjoyable for everyone.
1) CHOOSE FRIENDLY
When eating out, choose child-friendly places. If you’re out of town, call ahead and ask a few simple questions, such as does the restaurant have a changing table for your baby? It’s hard to change a baby’s diaper in your car on the road when there’s lots of stuff in the car or worse, on a public restroom floor! Also ask if the restaurant has a children’s menu or offers special selections for kids. If not, ask if they can accommodate special requests. You can tell a lot about how welcome children are at a restaurant by how the person on the other end of the phone responds.
2) ORDER FOR THE LITTLEST FIRST
Be ready to place your young kids’ meal orders when the server takes your drink orders. Little ones take longer to eat, and having a child’s dinner brought to the table quickly deters little hands from mischief. Most kitchens are happy to accommodate this request.
3) WHERE TO SIT
Children behave better if you sit next to them, rather than across from them. “We always request a booth,” says Jenkins, “and one of us – my husband or I – will sit next to each child.”
Careful seating can also help prevent accidents. It is much more difficult for a child to fall out of a chair or spill milk if seated next to an observant adult, and it’s easier to help a child with his food this way.
4) SPECIAL REQUESTS
If your child has a special dietary need, ask your server for help. Many eateries can simplify a dish to make it more appealing to a child. Almost any pasta dish can be prepared with only butter and cheese. A dish of fish, chicken or beef can be prepared with sauce on the side. Some kitchens even keep peanut butter for those exceptionally picky eaters!
5) HAVE A BAG OF TRICKS
Be prepared to use the number one parenting tool with young children: distraction! Pack a few items into your purse or diaper bag to divert little fingers, especially if you don’t know if the restaurant has special activities or not — even if it does, kids can quickly grow bored, so pack your own stash of small toys, paper and crayons, or even car keys in a pinch can help. If you find yourself without an activity, you can resort to hide and seek or “Eye Spy”! Use your imagination when all else fails.
No matter where you and your family decide to eat, with a little careful planning you can have an easy – and fun – night out.
Jane Gaither is a freelance writer and mother of two residing in Nashville.