Friday, January 10, 2014

Dining Out with Kids

It has to be every parent’s nightmare to be invited or expected to fine dine with children.  No lie, this is one of my biggest challenges as a Mom; my kiddos have grown up eating at Ma & Pop restaurants, kid friendly joints, and the classic fast food joints.  However, I made it my goal this summer to introduce them to some new places, new experiences, and along with that came new challenges. 

My biggest challenges when it comes to dining with kids:
  • Knowing the food- Grilled cheese is never the same, Pizza is not Pizza, and kid’s do not want their food smothered in anything green.  I recently had an all time fail while eating at the Boathouse Forest Park in St Louis, MO; I had the grand idea to short cut the cost of the kids menu and order pizza off the regular menu for three kids to share.  I ordered the Four Cheese Pizza, thinking this was a simple fix they would love it, only what kid likes Feta Cheese on their pizza?  Needless to say I had 3 unhappy eaters and ended up eating the pizza myself and they devoured my chicken and fries.    
  • Manners- okay honestly, my kids do have decent table manners.  I mean we do not dance on the table, we don’t belch and rub our stomach after a meal, nor do we talk the 3 B’s at the table (boogers, body functions, body parts).  However, sitting at a restaurant that takes more than 5 minutes to cook your food can cause moments of boredom and odd things happen.  We all have that moment when our 4 year old sends a napkin flying across the room to land in the well postured decked to hilt lady’s lap….thankfully she had manners and grinned to my relief.     
  • Entertainment- well this can save the manners issue, but normally when I am dining out somewhere other than a family friendly joint it tends to be for a reason, but that reason is usually boring for sidekicks.  What can you do to quietly entertain your kiddos at dinner?   
  • Tableware- Yes we use glass plates, cups, and napkins at our table at home, but that is at home and I own them.  My worst fear is to sit at a table and they only provide my child with a wine glass to drink from, sigh….a 4 year old cannot handle that. 

Solutions to Dining with Tots
I by far am no expert, but I can say we have successfully dined at finer joints, and not left a complete mess.  We conquered Gram & Dun in Kansas City, MO and while we could have done a bit better, I would give my kids, the server, and our host a 2-thumbs up for tolerating and making our dining experience an ease.
  • Food- ask what words mean, ask the server exactly what the food is, get the full details, and then put it on a kid’s level.  You are not expected to be culinary expert, but the person serving your food usually knows or can ask exactly what something is.  At Gram & Dun we successfully shared one appetizer that was not mozzarella sticks and my sidekicks loved the Not-So-Standard Potato Chips served with a trio of ketchups.   
  • Entertainment- still my biggest challenge anywhere we go.  I personally have become too reliant on my kiddos iPods to keep them entertained in a crunch.  Well noise is an issue in public, they turn the volume up too loud, or they cannot hear over the crowd.  Here is what I have started carrying in my car; colored pencils, small notebooks, etch-sketch, a few small cars, and envelopes.  After dinner conversations, give them plenty of time to write their GaGa a letter, or draw pictures for whomever their heart desires.    
  • Tableware- once again just ask, while the restaurant may not have paper cups, they may have a coffee mug, or something smaller that little hands can fit around.  I have successfully (or their preschool and school has) taught my kids to use their napkins, but I also carry a small box of wipes with me for those emergency “well shucks Mom, I spilled ketchup all over me” moments. 

The one thing I have noticed is if my kids are expected to act like adults, they want to be treated as adults.  They prefer to order their own food, pick their own drink, and speak to their server themselves….more power to them this keeps me out of the dog house when they hate their food.  If I  am going to order a cocktail or glass of wine it is only fair that they also get to order a non-alcoholic drink of their choice, one way I diffuse the arguments and justify ordering my favorite beverage. 
Dining out is a privilege and a treat in our house, especially living on a “single” Mom’s income.  I often pick one special place a month to treat ourselves out to, and in return try to skip the last minute fast food runs or carryout calls.  
 Chow Down Folks,
~Becky

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