The first time you bring your child to eat out, start easy with a family-friendly restaurant. Make sure the menu options have some items your child is familiar with eating. Do not expect them to try something new the first time out. Try to go a little earlier than you would normally eat dinner (and just before prime eating time). This will help insure the restaurant isn’t packed and your wait, for both a table and food, won’t be long.

Ages 2-5

Before you go…

Prepare your child. Let them know they are having a “grown up” dinner. Explain (age-appropriately) what behavior to expect (sitting in their seat, eating their food, etc). It is a good idea to pack a little food or a small healthy snack if your wait ends up being really long. If your child is still using a sippy cup, be sure to pack one of those, too (or simply a cup with a lid and a straw to prevent spills on your first meal out). Be sure to pack hand wipes, for any sticky situations. As young children do have short attention spans, bring crayons and coloring book or another quiet, tabletop activity to keep little ones occupied while they wait for their meal.

For parents, remember younger children have short attention spans. After eating, don’t linger too long. As much as a leisurely meal is important, don’t attempt to spend hours sitting around a table talking during your first few ventures out with your child. However, when you have dinner conversation, include your child as you would at home.

During the meal…

For younger children, it is easier to order for then. However, as your child gets older, help them with the menu options. It is best to limit the selection to foods that they know and have eaten before. If you child misbehaves during the meal (getting out of their chair, not listening), give them a warning. If the misbehaving continues, let them know they will have a time out as soon as they get home (and follow through immediately when getting home, reminding them why you are putting them into a time out).

Ages 6-9

Before you go…

For all younger children, it’s always important to remind them of the behavior and expectations you have before you go to a restaurant.

During the meal…

As children get older, allow them to explore more options on the menu. By this age, they should be ordering for themselves. Make them aware of their new responsibilities and praise good behavior. Much like at home, make sure children at this age and stage are really incorporated into the dinner conversation as their attention spans are now longer and they can focus on the discussion without being distracted by other diners.

Ages 10-13

Before you go…

At these ages, it’s about expectations on a different level. Set rules like no phones, iPads, etc at the table. Lead by example in this case as well.

During the meal…

Now that your child can order on their own, it’s important to be sure they don’t over order or make very poor decisions. If you allow them soda, make sure there are limits set as to refills, appetizers, etc. As you expect your child to make healthy choices with their food, parents must do the same as well. Limiting sugary drinks, having salad instead of bread or an appetizer is another way to create healthy eating out habits for the entire family.

Copywritten by Jo Frost

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