Even children who eat everything you put in front of them at home may experience a Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde transition and turn into an incredibly picky eater when you arrive at a restaurant. Children like what they are familiar with and a sudden unrecognizable display of chicken divan may be all it takes to push them over the edge. In spite of its pitfalls, dining out with children is a crucial step in the child rearing process. Socializing children in the fine art of dining out takes a little time and a lot of patience. If the time has come to teach Junior the finer points of social eating, consider these tips to make the transition run smoothly.
1) Start simple. Skip the white table cloth dining experience for at least a few more years. Take your child to a restaurant that is geared towards the younger crowd. Many eat-in fast food restaurants expect and encourage younger eaters. The menu is basic, offering food selections your child is already familiar with and probably enjoys quite a bit. Eating out is not the time to introduce your child to new foods for the first time. Consider it a victory if you can get through the meal without a ketchup drenched french fry landing in your hair.
2) Expect to entertain your child before, during and after the meal service. Some restaurants offer coloring books and crayons to keep children occupied while waiting for their food to arrive. If you’re not sure about the restaurant where you plan to dine, take your own crayons, books or small toys to amuse and distract your child.
3) Ask your child’s opinion of what he would like to eat. Being able to make this decision gives them some ownership of the dining experience. They are more likely to eat, or at least sample, foods they have selected for themselves instead of something you think they might like. It’s best to keep it simple and maintain a low level of expectations.
4) Don’t go to the restaurant during the peak dining hours. Choose a late lunch or an early dinner when the crowds are minimal. This limits the amount of waiting time, noise and confusion your child will have to process throughout the meal.
5) Don’t force your child to eat. Children know what they like and they know when they have had enough to eat. Forcing a child to clean their plate is simply asking for a temper tantrum in a restaurant. Treat dining out as an experience to expand your child’s horizons, both socially and nutritionally. Allow them to enjoy the experience on their own level. Offer positive encouragement for the foods they do eat or taste and hope to make further progress the next time you and your child enjoy the experience of eating out together.
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