If you were to ask my friends to tell you one thing about me, they would probably say that I’m the one to go to when they need a restaurant suggestion. It’s kind of a gift, a talent really. Give me an area of the city, type of cuisine, and I’ll tell you the best place to go in Toronto to fit your needs. Seriously considering adding this to our list of services.
This gift isn’t all raw talent. It’s from years and years of dining out in this city. It’s kind of my thing. I love food and I love eating so naturally I love eating out in restaurants. When you find a place where all the stars align – food, service, atmosphere, it’s truly a magical experience. That’s what my husband and I did on our date nights. Some people go to movies, bowling, miniature golfing, we always ALWAYS went out to eat.
So when we had children, that was something I wasn’t willing to give up. It’s what made me feel like me. Yes, this is a home cooking blog and yes, my all time favourite place is still in my kitchen, but I like having both. So with babysitters being the limiting factor, our kids had no choice but to join us on some of our restaurant adventures. And they still do. In fact, when my eldest daughter was a mere two weeks old we took her out for pizza. My youngest visited our favourite brunch spot at 4 weeks. And now, we regularly dine out with our kids. And it’s actually a really enjoyable experience. Sitting down for a meal together with my family is always the highlight of my day, whether that table is in my home or in a restaurant.
And just like at home, there are some strategies I employ that help make meal time enjoyable for everyone. It’s still a dinner table and you’re still gathering around it, so why wouldn’t the same “rules” apply?
Here are some tips to help make dining out with your kids enjoyable
Let your kids take part in choosing the restaurant
Just like our tip for letting your children help choose the recipes when you get started cooking, let them have a say in where you go out to eat too. When we’re deciding where to dine out with our kids, my husband and I always ask them what they feel like. Don’t you want to have a say when you go to a restaurant? That way they are more excited about it and you are involving them in the meal process, which always helps to make that meal time more enjoyable.
I don’t know about you, but if my kids aren’t eating by 5:45 or 6pm the absolute LATEST they kind of turn into monsters. I mean, don’t you when you reach that ‘hangry’ point? So if you arrive at the restaurant at 5:45, you likely won’t eating until at least 6:30. A recipe for disaster. Always arrive at a restaurant at least 20 minutes or half hour before you actually want to eat. It takes time for the food to arrive, there may be a wait to sit down, and you want to make sure the food is arriving before you reach that point of no return. And if the restaurant takes reservation, that’s even better! Book it 30 minutes earlier than you actually want to eat. Everyone will be much happier!
I never EVER head out for dinner with my kids empty handed. Even if you’re out of the diaper stage, pack a bag. I load mine up with some crayons, colouring books, stickers, and snacks. Food can take a while to come or if your kids are like mine, they can finish their meals in about 10 minutes flat. Having some activities for them to do at the table helps them stay engaged. I still stick with the rule of putting away the ipad/iphone at the table, but some colouring and stickers are okay in my books. And bonus points if the restaurant supplies these! The snacks are helpful if their food is taking a long time. They also help to ensure you are offering at least one thing your kids like to eat – one of our golden rules for making all meals family friendly.
Order right away
So, I’m going to be honest. I enjoy dining out with my kids, but it’s not the relaxed, drawn out dining experience I may have enjoyed in the past. So when you sit down at the restaurant, try to order ASAP. The food can take time and if you are wasting time debating over which pizza to order, get both! Or just get the one you really really want. We usually tell the waiter to bring out the food as soon as it’s ready, no matter the order of the plates.
Sitting around the dinner table and sharing a meal as a family, whether it’s homemade, take out, or in a restaurant, is one of the most important things you can do to help foster a happy and healthy relationship with food for your children and to help them become adventurous eaters. So I hope this gives you the strength and courage to brave a restaurant with your entire family. The more you do it, the easier and more enjoyable it will become. And then you don’t have to give up your favourite pre-kids past time either!