The first time I ever ate out was when I was 13 – yep 13! Growing up in a Greek home, surrounded by a healthy Mediterranean cuisine you could wish for, there was no need to eat out.
I remember heading out to the movies on George Street in Sydney. There was a group of us and it was a big outing! As I sat in McDonalds eating my cheeseburger and fries, I knew there and then this wasn’t going to be a regular occurrence in my life!
In my home, we loved to eat Avgolemono (Greek egg & lemon soup), Lamb Souvlaki (marinated with olive oil, lemon and Greek herbs) and Pastitsio (layers of pasta, slow-cooked lamb and creamy béchamel sauce) and always washing it down with a freshly cut Greek salad.
Since my initiation into ‘eating out’ I have visited some lovely places to eat and even though I prefer to stay home and eat home-cooked food, I do love getting out and letting someone else do the dishes for me!
Recently, I was spoilt by my daughters who took me to a lovely place called Nanna Kerr’s Kitchen – located at 16 Pokolbin Mountains Road, Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley. It is a mostly organic kitchen and open every day from 9am – 4pm.
My eldest daughter, who has a toddler and new born, was considering leaving her kiddies with her husband on our outing. My other girls quickly reminded her how much I would love the kids to be with us!
We had a lovely time, it was family friendly, fabulously delicious food and our toddler had just as much fun as we did.
Sometimes it is easier to leave the kiddies behind just so you can get some ‘down’ time, but you know what, I loved having my grandkids with us and between the four of us, we managed to keep her interested and out of mischief!
So here are my thoughts as to how to enjoy eating out with your toddler (and older kids).
1. Practice sitting and eating around the table as a family at home, so when you are out, it’s a natural overflow of what’s expected.
Life is busy – no arguments there! I encourage you to at least set aside three days a week to sit at the table and enjoy a meal with your family. When we sit around the table together, we learn how to converse with one another, how to take turns, we develop listening skills and learn how to appreciate the opinions of others which helps us expand our thinking about the world around us. When you practice at home, it’s a natural overflow of what’s expected around the table even when you are out.
2. Include your kids in the process of ordering the food.
When kids are included, they are less likely to act up and want to be noticed. Notice them when they are behaving and include them in what is ordered, give them the menu to ‘read’ and encourage them to give their order to the waiter/waitress. This teaches your kids about the process that takes place in a restaurant, builds their confidence and teaches them how to make healthy and smart choices (with some leading by you!).
3. Don’t wait until they’re starving, before leaving home offer them a piece of fruit to keep them going – that way you avoid a ‘hangry’ episode!
With my own kiddies, I used to give them a ‘small’ meal before going out so that it kept them going and we only needed to order a small serve for them (keeping the cost down and keeping the wastage to a minimum). Also, it meant you could enjoy eating your dinner without them fussing about and they were quite happy to colour-in or play with their small bag of goodies.
4. Pack them some ‘no fuss’ activities to do at the table.
One option is to offer your kids to watch ABC kids or a kiddie episode of something – and for a short period of time, sure but as an overall rule, I would tend to steer away from this and have them prepared with crayons or pencils and a small book to colour. Or even pack a small ziplock bag with play dough so they can create their little creations, as they love dough at this age. And when they are older – what about a game of ‘I spy ‘ around the restaurant or something similar? And if possible, with your little one’s, give them a little run around before going inside to sit down – this helps with burning some of that energy! It’s really important to promote connection with our kids and we do live in a world where everyone’s head is in that little piece of technology called a mobile phone. I’m not here to judge but encourage you to keep the balance.
5. Maintain the expectations throughout the experience, just like home.
When you are actively maintaining expectations at home around the table, then it will be easier for your kids to know how to behave when out. If you don’t want your child to be climbing on the dining table when out, start by not allowing them to climb the dining table at home – it saves with the confusion for your child. Remind your child what’s expected when you’re out, repeating it to them during the night if you need to (which can be often with toddlers!).
I’m looking forward to hearing your stories and what works for you! Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and feel free to share this blog!