It is possible to enjoy a restaurant meal with your kids, but it takes some planning.
When you are going to be bringing an infant, try to arrange your mealtime to co-ordinate with her nap time. Ideally, if you can feed her as soon as you get settled at the table she'll then drift off and nap while you eat your dinner.
Choosing a booth works best. A booth will give you space for her baby seat and booths are a bit darker so it's easier for her to nap. It's also more private for when you are nursing her.
Whether you can plan your meal around her nap or not, bring plenty of supplies. Plan for her to be awake the whole time. Bring diapers and wipes, a blanket (in case the restaurant is drafty), extra drinks if she's drinking juice or water and soft quiet toys that you know she enjoys.
Place her so that she can see what's going on. She will love looking at all the people and activity and doubtless there will be folks who will want to smile at her and make silly faces. Avoid noisy or hard plastic toys. You want her engaged but not noisy.
It gets more challenging with toddlers and preschoolers. They aren't satisfied to simply sit and look around; they want to be active and to be entertained. Besides all the supplies you would bring with a baby, bring toys. Soft picture books, crayons and colouring books are good choices. You may want to also include some favourite finger foods.
I know some parents who like to go to their neighbourhood restaurant. They know the menu so they phone ahead and order the meals. They time it so the food arrives shortly after they are seated. It makes it easier for them, it's sensible for little ones who aren't good at sitting and waiting, and the restaurant loves it.
They have customers but not disruptions. If you can't order ahead, and you are dining with toddlers or preschoolers, order meals that don't take too much time to prepare. This is not the time for a specialty order that requires 20 minutes.
It's best to plan to go out during your child's regular mealtime. If they are not yet hungry or are absolutely starved, you are asking for problems.
While you are waiting for your meal, take the kids for a short walk. Maybe you can go around the outside of the restaurant or if they are toilet trained, I guarantee you they will want to see the restrooms. Kids are fascinated by public bathrooms.
Being successful with older children at a restaurant is simply a case of good manners. I have observed parents with school-aged and teen children in restaurants and I can usually predict within a few minutes which families will have problems. I've seen parents arrive with their kids and then simply ignore them. The adults are chatting away and expecting their kids will just sit quietly and wait for their food, and then eat equally quietly. In these situations kids tend to behave badly, just to get some attention. They are reminding their folks that they are also present.
However, if the parents involve their children in conversation, it's so pleasant. Everyone is chatting and smiling and laughing and having a great time. Treat your children with the same respect as you do the other adults and you will have a lovely meal.
Taking kids out to restaurants (other than the obvious fast food spots) is great. You get a break from cooking and your children are learning how to behave while eating in public.
. Tri-Cities resident Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at www.parentingtoday.ca.