one of the things we love about living in new york city is the food! it’s all just so good, even when it’s terrible. ;) we tend to cook at home more often these days with our little ones, but we still enjoy eating out together! (you can find some of our favorite spots in my NYC GUIDES, ps.)
it’s fun to head to different neighborhoods and try new foods with our kids in tow, and despite what some might think, i believe new york is incredibly accommodating for families dining out (which is nice for a mama who struggles with consistent grocery lists and cooking routines, much to my mother and mother-in-law’s dismay. but yeah, new york is definitely a win-win for me regarding this situation.
while eating our food together can be an adventure in and of itself, for me, it’s also about the experience of going somewhere together, and having a good time with each other while we wait for our food to arrive, or as we choose which things to order. whether it’s our favorite spot to grab pizza or hummus, or a new restaurant we’re all trying for the first time, i sometimes think these experiences have helped our kids be more adventurous eaters, often trying new things we don’t make at home.
i thought i’d share a few tips and tricks we have picked up over the past four and half years when taking our little ones to a restaurant. we definitely are always learning as we go, so would love to hear how you make it work for your family as well in the comments below!
5 TIPS AND TRICKS FOR EATING OUT WITH KIDS!
1. TIMING (FOR EXAMPLE, GO BEFORE THE CROWDS!)
if we’re heading to brunch on a saturday morning or dinner on a weekday night, we’ll try to go earlier than typical peak times. this way, we avoid long lines or crowds and somehow the kids feel more manageable as well! and we are always conscientious of nap times and bedtimes.
2. VERBAL GAMES, CONVERSATION, ENGAGEMENT
we try really hard to keep our meals, whether at our home or out, entirely about spending time talking and engaging with each other through conversations that include everyone or with verbal games. that’s not to say we haven’t experienced the kind of chaos while we’re out where we end up handing over an iPhone with a game on it to one of the littles to distract them or keep them in their seat, but that is the exception and has rarely happened. we try really hard to keep our meals completely about spending that time totally together, and not about toys or iPads.
i’ve mentioned this before, but we love to ask each other questions. and it’s become second nature for eleanor and samson now to ask these sorts of things right when they sit down at the table! “how has your day been today, mama?” “what did you do today?” “what did your dream about last night?” we go around and make sure everyone gets a turn to answer if they’d like. and from there, more questions or conversations begin. josh and i also try to make sure if we’re chatting about anything to each other while we’re at the table with our kids, to be careful what we’re talking about in front of them. these little ones are the best listeners and can pick up on our tone really well, too. that’s a whole other post though, because i have a lot of thoughts about what we should be saying, and not saying in front of our kiddos.
but anyway, right now, we love playing the word association game at the table! eleanor grasps it really well and samson is catching on! it’s where i say “red” and then the next person says the first word that comes to their mind that “red” reminds them of, like “cherries” and then the following person says the first word that “cherries” reminds them of, such as “fruit.” and so on and so on. it’s so fun to see where it takes us! we’ll start with something completely innocent like “soda” and several rounds later end up on something totally crazy like “dragons!” naturally. (ps. it’s amazing how toddlers can work in “dragons” or “castle” to any kind of conversation, actually.)
we play a lot of “i spy with my little eye…” too. we try to not have toys at the table (a little bit of a struggle right now since conrad really needs a few things to hold onto and put in his mouth since he’s so little), but for the older two, i believe they are old enough to sit with us, and eat with us.
(ps. sometimes, i have to remind myself to still let my kids be kids at the table though! eating rice with chopsticks is frustrating, i get it! sometimes you just gotta get into it with your hands!)
3. WIPE DOWN THE HIGHCHAIR
i feel like my kids have some of the best immune systems out there thanks to all the germs they encounter on a daily basis in this city (oh bless you subway pole that samson straight up licked last winter when i was taking him to art class in tribeca! HOW we didn’t get sick from that adventure i still haven’t a clue. but it’s a miracle.) even though we have been spared for now, i feel like highchairs in public spaces can be some of the stickiest and grimiest surfaces. so i like to try to wipe it down a bit before placing conrad inside it. and since he likes to put things in his mouth right now, i try to wipe down the table edge near him and anything else within his reach. (if i’m really together i’ll bring fancy all purpose surface wipes with me, but more often than not, i just use regular baby wipes. they might not even really pick up much dirt, but it gives me peace of mind. ;)
4. ASK FOR A BOOTH OR CORNER SEAT
on this particular day while we were out, we ate outside since the weather was amazing and there was an open table, but sometimes requesting an available booth or a table in the back corner can help wiggly littles ones who have a tendency to want to run around stay in their seats a little bit better! in the kindest way possible, it almost traps them in! haha!
5. ORDER RIGHT WHEN YOU SIT DOWN, AND ASK FOR THE CHECK WHEN YOUR FOOD ARRIVES, TOO
it’s nice to get the food on the table quickly. that’s not to say we don’t enjoy taking our time sitting together and eating our meal slowly, we do! but sometimes, it’s nice to get the order in just in case something happens and it takes longer than expected to get your waiter’s attention or the kitchen is really busy. (if we haven’t had a chance to look over the menu before sitting down, we like to ask for some bread for the table so there is something handy for the kids if needed.) we also like to ask for the check once the food arrives as well, just so it’s out of the way and we can hop out of the restaurant at a moments notice if necessary. it wasn’t always this way, but now with 3 little ones, sometimes it’s nice to just be ready! last but not least, tip generously. haha! i know it’s a lot to serve such a crazy bunch and i so appreciate those that wait on our table in such a friendly and kind way. i know it isn’t easy for them when we bring three kids along to a restaurant, so i think it’s important.
so those are pretty much our 5 biggest tricks we have discovered. timing of our meal, games and conversations we can all participate in, wiping down the space for baby, asking for a corner seat or back booth, and ordering right when we sit down (and asking for the check when our food arrives, too.)
oh wait! i just thought of another. josh and i sometimes eat in shifts. so the food comes, and we switch off who is helping the kids, focusing on their needs entirely or holding conrad too for 10 minutes or so, while the other one eats, and then we switch. that’s a minor one, and sometimes a bit of a struggle if we both ordered something hot! but it works really nicely for us.
anything i’ve left off this list that is key for your family?