Disaster Prevention: Eating out with your children
I’ve seen it a hundred times before, baby at restaurant throws tantrum, parents go red, waiters seem annoyed and other patrons are either shaking their heads or looking on with sympathy mixed in with relief that it’s not them in the same situation.
Going out to any restaurant for some parents is cringe-worthy. The good thing is that there are many restaurants that cater to families and have emergency measures in place like colouring sheets, special toys to keep children occupied and play centers to burn off extra steam that our young ones seem to pack whenever they leave their homes.
The one thing I haven’t noticed change (in general) are South Asian restaurants. There are a few modernized places but not so much with the smaller neighbourhood ones. There are usually no crayons, toys, or even high chairs for that matter. So what are we to do? What did our parents do? I know my parents didn’t seem to plan the way I do. Nonetheless, I still plan based on what might happen, sort of like disaster prevention. The great thing about a South Asian family restaurant though is they (staff and patrons) don’t seemed to be phased with the chaos. This alone often makes up for a restaurant’s lack of facilities.
As a very active restaurant reviewer, my family and I go out to eat a LOT. I started writing after I had my second child which meant two kids, note pad, camera and the attention to properly assess an establishment’s food, service, ambiance, etc. We have done many things wrong and have figured out things that help us have a great evening.
Here are some tips to make your next desi dining experience a happy one. My kids right now are seven and two but these tips have always been helpful!
1) Feed your kids BEFORE you head out the door
Trust me, as strange as it sounds to eat before you go out to eat, you know an empty belly is THE trigger for outbursts. How much and what to feed can change depending on when you plan to leave (in comparison with their normal feeding time) and how long the travel time is. Most scenarios, I give them their “appetizer” at home.
So things like cut up fruits, some pasta, crackers and cheese, etc. is the norm and holds them over. Or sometimes if I have some leftovers I heat and pack that up to feed them there. This way I don’t have to worry if they will like the food at the restaurant or not. Not only that, but a lot of South Asian restaurants do not take reservations and depending on when you go, you could have a long wait.
2) Bring cheating snacks
Ok this is not a parenting or health article; it’s just some advice from a mom who has no issue with breaking the rules once in a while, especially if it means a wonderful and fun outing for all. Pack stuff your kids love and ARE NOT allowed having on a regular basis. Just don’t let them know you have it until it’s time for the reveal. It could mean some chocolate chip cookies, a lollipop, and chocolate. Whatever it is, It should make your child stop in their tracks and turn into an angel. This is your secret weapon aka bribe (don’t judge me!)
3) DON’T bring toys from home unless you’re sure it will occupy them
Most of the time my kids end up playing with the sugar packets, napkins and tableware (I take away the forks and knives). Since they tend to ignore their toys, why clutter the table and your purse? The little ones have fun taking the sugar packs out of the tray and back in, sorting and stacking. My older son tries to make buildings the way you do with playing cards. They’re using their imaginations and they’re occupied! If you bring toys, make sure they’re small, easy to throw in your bag and disposable because you likely will lose them along the way. Bring a few options that they haven’t seen in a while so they’re excited to play with it – even if it’s for only five minutes.
4) Order their food first and go for a walk
When you get in, order their meal first with your appetizers or if you’re just ordering a main meal, ask the staff to get their order out first. DO NOT put them in their chair. If they have an online menu, choose what you’re going to have from before. Better yet, order ahead of time so you have less of a wait when you arrive.
While you’re waiting for your food, take them for a walk around the restaurant, go to the washroom, change their diaper, etc. When the food comes, they’ll likely go in their booster or high chair with greater ease because it’s new and they see their food.
While you’re waiting for your food, you have time to feed them if they need assistance. Goal is to have them fed while you are waiting. One of the best purchases I’ve made was this roll up mat. It’s truly a lifesaver. It is easy to pack and store because it’s flexible and rolls away. Easy to clean and kids love it because they eat right off of it, no plates.
5) Kid-friendly dinner options
The worst thing about going to a South Asian restaurant is many times a lot of the menu items are spicy. I have to admit, as much as I’ve tried, my kids do not have any spice tolerance. I’m left to get creative with their meals or even place special requests (which most chefs are happy to accommodate).
If they’re using freshly prepared batter and are able to reduce or remove the garam masala and chilli, I would opt for popular savories like pakora. However, basics like a daal mixed in with rice, stuffed paratha or rolling some chicken in a naan usually seem to be a good fall back if the exotic dishes you try and give them don’t go over well.
6) Your dinnertime = their playtime
This is where you pull all the tricks. They’ve eaten, your food has arrived. Now’s the time you let them stack the sugar packs, play with the spoons and when they finally get bored, get their “cheating snacks”. This whole process should give you 20 minutes at the very least.
You might be wondering why I split up the meal and feed them first. If eating together works for you, do it. For me, it’s fine at home, but dining out, it’s always been more effective for me this way. It’s just based on my kids – and everyone is different. So do what works for you.
By the end of the night, with these steps, you should have higher chances of a successful evening out. For me, my first son was amazing at restaurants – we never had any issues. My second was polar opposite and I had a really hard time getting out because he was always non-stop tantrums. The above tips really helped me and made it possible for my husband and I enjoy and evening out WITH the kids!
What are your strategies for eating out with young kids? Share them for other moms here!
©masalamommas and masalamommas.com, 2016-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to masalamommas.com and Masalamommas online magazine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.