Eating out . . . with your child

15 June 2014

Yes, you can take your baby with you when you go to a restaurant; it takes a bit of planning but it’s not impossible. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re planning your outing . . .

Of course you can eat out with your children; it just takes a little more planning than when you were going out with only your partner. Here are a few useful tips:

Choose the right restaurant

Although a few restaurant chains are known for their family friendliness they’re not your only option when you want to eat out with your children. Do a little research: websites such as eatout.co.za regularly place lists of child-friendly restaurants that make families feel welcome. Click here to find a list.

A restaurant doesn’t have to have a built-in play area for your children; any restaurant with an outdoor area that can be explored will do.

If you want to try a new restaurant, first phone and find out how welcome your children will be. The worst that can happen is they’ll suggest you find somewhere else to eat. It’ll make your night out more enjoyable to know the manager and waiters aren’t silently cursing you and your children.

Choose the right time

Don’t upset your child’s routine. If they usually become weepy at 7 pm because they’re tired, don’t expect things to be any different in a restaurant. Try to fit an outing in with their regular routine.

Prepare your child

Eating out may not be a new experience for you but for a child accustomed to eating at home it can be strange. Before you leave home explain to your child how a restaurant works. Tell them they will have to select what they want to eat from a few options, explain the waiter’s job and explain that the kitchen staff will prepare the food before you can eat. Make it sound exciting; this prevents children becoming frustrated because they don’t understand the process. Discuss table manners and what kind of behaviour is acceptable in a restaurant.

Be prepared

The key to your child’s good behaviour is ensuring they don’t get bored or look for attention. Take a few toys or colouring books with you to keep them busy. Familiar toys will help make a strange environment feel more welcoming. Give your child enough attention so they don’t demand it with an outburst or bad behaviour.

A restaurant manager advises:

Ken Davidson, the manager of the Riverplace Estate on the Hennops River, near Pretoria, which has a child-friendly restaurant, says it’s important children have fun. “Children are young only once. Being naughty is acceptable as long as it’s not unpleasant.”

What tips do restaurant managers and waiters have for parents? “Children should be allowed to run around and play – but not with the restaurant’s décor, furniture and glasses,” says Davidson.

“The restaurant must set certain boundaries but parents must enforce them and make sure children know what they are.”

Allen Barnley, manager of the Blowfish restaurant in Bloubergstrand in Cape Town says: “Parents do not understand that restaurants are like machines, with many moving dangerous parts. Waiting staff, hot plates, trays loaded with drinks, spills and breaking glass do not really create a safe environment for children in restaurants.

So find out beforehand what’s acceptable behaviour at a particular restaurant. He advises parents to take a child who has had a temper tantrum out of the restaurant until they’ve calmed down.

“Parents are responsible for their children’s behaviour. Punishing your child or embarrassing him in front of others is taboo.”

What to order

Saskia Zietsman, a dietician and owner of dialadietician.co.za, suggests moms find out beforehand what’s on a restaurant’s menu so they’ll know if children are accommodated. She gives the following advice on what to order for your children:

  • There’s no rule that says children must order from the children’s menu. “The options on this menu are often very limited. Many of the options, such as Vienna sausages, chicken snacks, chips and toasted sandwiches are not only boring but also unhealthy because they contain too much fat and salt.”
  • Keep the starters menu in mind when looking for options for a child. “The portion sizes are more suited to children and there is a greater variety.”
  • Choose a restaurant that has platters on the menu. “Children can help decide which one to take. Fussy children can decide for themsleves what to nibble on. From a health point of view it’s better to choose a platter that doesn’t comprise only deep-fried foods such as samoosas and chips. Cheese, ham, tomatoes, rolls, spread or pâté, seafood and chicken strips are good choices.”
  • Build a pizza. “Most children love pizza. Find out beforehand if your children can build their own pizzas by choosing the ingredients themselves. Encourage them to choose something fresh, such as tomatoes, mushrooms or peppers.”
  • Pasta is always popular. “Most restaurants have a variety of pastas on the menu. Find out if the restaurant is prepared to prepare a half portion for your child. If you have two children let them share a full portion.”

If a restaurant isn’t an option

You may have had a couple of nightmare experiences in a restaurant but that’s no reason not to go out. Zietsman gives advice, “If it’s just impossible to go to a restaurant with your children, why not have a picnic instead? Let the children help decide what goes into the picnic basket.”

-Suzaan Hauman

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