Eating Out with Kids

Eating out with kids? A necessity in your busy lifestyle—or a special treat for your family? To make restaurant meals a healthful and pleasant experience for the whole family, and a chance to teach kids how to make healthful choices and behave away from home:

  • Choose a restaurant that caters to children, perhaps with healthier children's menus. A place that serves food quickly probably is best; waiting too long at the table is hard for kids. If you have a young child, ask for a high chair or a booster seat. Save upscale table service for older children, teens, and adults.
  • Match your eating-out schedule to a child's needs. When meals are delayed, kids can't compensate for hunger pangs as adults can. You'll only end up with a cranky meal companion! Offer a small snack ahead.
  • Look beyond the children's menu for foods on the regular menu. Skip the urge to just order fries or fried chicken nuggets for your child. A good alternative: take home half the order; order other foods, too.
  • Before ordering, ask about the preparation. Most children like plain foods with the sauce or the dressing on the side. In that way they have a choice. Substitute "sides": perhaps carrot sticks in place of fries.
  • Choose two or three suitable menu items. Then let your child pick—and even place the order if he or she wants to. (Avoid pressuring your child.) Making choices encourages independence and gives kids control over their eating.
  • Let kids order familiar favorites when they eat out. For new foods offer a bite or two from your order.
  • If regular portions are too big for children, ask for appetizer portions. Or share an order . . . perhaps between two kids or with you. Kids shouldn't be urged or expected to "polish" their plate. Instead, consider bringing leftovers home safely.
  • Curb your child's appetite while you wait. Ask for a small portion of raw vegetables or bread—just enough to take the edge off hunger, not enough to interfere with a meal. Ask for drinks with the meal, not before, so your child doesn't fill up on liquids.
  • Make eating out a pleasant experience for kids. Engage them in table talk as you wait for your meal.

For more about restaurant ordering, see chapter 14.

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