Eating out can be a fantastic experience for kids. They get the opportunity to build their social skills, practice table manners and experience new tastes all at the same time.
While we think this is an opportunity not to be missed in helping children explore new foods and dining situations, we understand that for many parents eating out with children can be a daunting experience. To help, we’ve put together a list of our top tips to help keep eating out fun for the whole family.
BEFORE YOU GO
- Pick restaurants with a buzzing atmosphere, plenty of chat and clatter. That way children can make a noise without you feeling like others are being disturbed.
- Book a table. No one wants to hang around with hungry children.
- Eat early. The kitchen should be quieter and grumbling tummies will get fed faster.
- Look at menus online. You can place your order quicker and make sure there are foods your child will eat.
- Call ahead. Does the restaurant have children’s cutlery, high chairs and activities to keep little ones entertained, or will you need to take your own? Ideally these should be provided as standard, but this isn’t the case everywhere.
- Take a look at the Soil Association’s Out to Lunch website – a fabulous resource for checking the family friendliness of the UK’s high-street chains. To celebrate topping the table again this year Jamie’s Italian is inviting kids to eat free this half term!
BEFORE YOU ORDER
- Fruit juice can be a good alternative to sugar-sweetened drinks. However, they can still be very high in sugar. When ordering juice ask if this can be diluted with still or sparkling water. Alternatively, stick to plain water or milk to keep the sugar intake down.
- If the kids’ menu only offers beige, deep-fried foods that provide little in terms of nutritional value and flavour, ask if the restaurant can make up a child’s portion an adult meal.
- A balanced diet is really important to support children’s growth and development – try to pick a meal that contains all of the main food groups.
- Ask questions. Your server should be able to tell you where the meat, fish, milk and eggs on the menu come from, if they are organic, and if the food has been freshly prepared on site.
- If your child has a food allergy always mention this before ordering. Even if you have dined at the same restaurant and ordered the same dish before, always mention your child’s allergy as recipes may change.
- If tummies are rumbling, ask for some bread or nibbles to keep hunger at bay until your meal arrives.
DURING THE MEAL
- Ask for an extra side plate to allow food to cool down quicker.
- Encourage children to taste other dishes and experience new flavours. Or why not order a selection of dishes for everyone to dig in and share? Eating out can be an exciting opportunity for kids to try new foods, especially when everyone else is enjoying them too.
- Include your child in dinner table conversations – eating out is a great social experience, and enjoyment will come as much from sharing the experience as eating the food.
- Fresh fruit is always the most nutritious dessert option. However, sometimes special occasions call for a treat. In this case it’s OK to opt for more indulgent desserts on the kids’ menu. If there aren’t any, ask for a smaller portion of a main dessert rather than ordering a full-size adult one.
We hope these ideas will help you to embrace eating out as a whole family. Positive food experiences from an early age can really help to foster a love for food that can last a lifetime.