eating out with littles!

lovetaza-tips-and-tricks-eating-out-with-littles

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.

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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.

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(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. ;)

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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!

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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?

  1. Lisa

    unsure if you have left anything off BUT timing is everything! its the story of my life HA x

  2. M

    While my family does not meet your belief system’s definition of a family, we have found that while dining out as a family, a basic deck of cards can go a long way. It’s not a singular electronic game like a phone, and simple games can engage all ages. Found this trick after popping into a pizza place that had decks on the table.

  3. Ruth

    I’d love to know where you got that floral top! So sweet.

  4. Laura

    Obviously this is seasonal, but whenever we can we eat outside! I feel much better about leaving a mess on the ground or the sidewalk versus an interior floor, plus if need be one of us can take an antsy kid for a quick walk while waiting for a course to arrive. There is also a lot more to see to capture a kid’s attention outside. Now we just need to move somewhere where it’s permanently warm…

  5. Dorothy

    Great post! I often have to nurse while out & my bulky cover is annoying. Your floral top looks very nursing-friendly! Please include shopping link?! Pretty please!

    • TAZA

      thank you! it’s from steven alan!

  6. Amanda

    #5 is brilliant. Asking for the check as soon as the food arrives never occurred to me, but makes so much sense. After we are done eating is when my kids starts getting ants in her pants. Do you find that after you ask for the check, the waiter stops paying attention to you though?

  7. Lexie

    Eating in shifts is key for us! My husband was the youngest of a family full of boys, so he learned early on that if he doesn’t eat fast, all the food would get gobbled up before he could even consider second helpings. It isn’t until my kids and I are eating out with someone other than my husband that I realize how big of an asset his fast eating is!

    Thanks for the helpful list. I had never thought of that word association game! How fun. And although I always try to have crayons and paper with me, my kids can be just as enthralled by a pen and an old receipt, if necessary.

  8. Jenn

    My family of five and I took a road trip around the US last year with our 3 month old baby girl. Eating out was a little difficult and I had to get comfortable breastfeeding in random places real quick! The hardest thing was planning my outfit each day because I knew we would be sight seeing and I would need to have a shirt or dress that had easy access to breast feed! It’s great to see other mamas out and about doing the same thing!

  9. Sonia Cheek

    Great post! My husband and I love going out to eat but doing so with our two little ones is often unpredictable and usually pretty messy.. The tip about going on off peak times is spot on. What I find helps is going when they are tired, like after play time, or when we know they are hungry. I bring along the Micro Let’s Playground mat, too, and often use it as a food tray for the baby since he likes to spread out his food, LOL. I always have snacks on me as well if the food takes a while to come. But I’m sure we all know that one by now! Thanks again!

  10. amy

    love the tip about asking for the check right away! we’ll have to start doing that :)
    my best tip would be to persevere! we love eating out and want our kids to learn how to properly behave at a restaurant, so even when we have the one off trip that is awful, we never say that we’re never doing it again, haha. we just keep at it and hope the next time is better! :)

  11. Candy Mickelson

    This is great advice! I am pregnant with our first one and although it will be a few years until we will put some of these into practice I love how you have expectations for your kids at meal times and stick to it even in a restaurant which can be frustrating! I think you are great example of a laid back but also put together mom!

  12. Paige

    These tips are awesome! We learned this year with the addition of our second baby that booths make everything so much easier! Ordering right when you sit down and asking for the check early is a great idea too! We’ll have to try that next time!

    Paige
    http://thehappyflammily.com

  13. Ash

    Great ideas! Like you, I’m against the iPhone at tables even though I know it works wonders. I just know once I start, it will be too hard to go back. Crayons usually work for us. I bought little individual kids books on http://www.maybooks.com with my kids name on it and either letters to practice or color in. Another big hit at the table for us (kids are 2 and 4) are these tiny little animals I find at toy stores. Usually less than a dollar ea. you can find them here (http://anwo.com/store/animal-toy-mini-good-luck-miniatures.htm). I play guessing games with them like, I live on a farm and wake up really early: rooster! And pull the rooster out. Then take turns. Somewhat educational and fun. Sometimes we even try and play hide and seek w them on the table.
    Xo
    Ash

  14. hanna

    Asking for the check when your food arrives is such a good idea! –Hanna Lei

  15. Elsa

    Love this post! What kind of nursing cover are you wearing? It’s beautiful & brilliant. Nursing in restaurants or public settings is always a challenge for me. Thanks for the great post!

    • TAZA

      thanks! it’s just an oversized flowy blouse from steven alan, but so great for nursing!

  16. Great tips!
    -I also like to tell the waiter that they can bring out the dishes as soon as they’re ready (instead of waiting for the whole order to be brought at the same time), so that we can start eating (and sharing the food) as quickly as possible (this also helps to avoid my carb-obsessed toddler from filing up on bread!).
    -We also like to go for early breakfasts or lunches to beat the crowds, but also to avoid anyone being overly hungry and hangry at the table.
    -My almost 3 year old son is very physical and has a hard time sitting still for extended periods of time. So after we order, my husband will sometimes take him for a quick tour of the restaurant, or outside even, and finally a trip to the bathroom to wash up, and this really helps to pass the waiting time.
    xoxo

    • TAZA

      yes, definitely bringing out the dishes when they are ready is a good one! we sometimes do little walks around too before the food comes if one of our kiddos is particularly wiggly!

  17. Rachel

    These are super helpful!! I only have one little one, but could totally use all of these! Thank you :)

    Rachel
    Simply Rachel Nicole

  18. Emily

    This is great! Thanks so much for sharing! Our first baby just turned 8 months so we are learning so much! I would love for you to share a bit about naps, bedtimes, sleep schedules/training etc. I know every family is so different, but I would love to hear what you have learned with the first two that has helped you with Conrad. We’re going through a rough pTch with our baby boy and naps right now.
    Thanks so much!

  19. I love your blog. You are such a wonderfully inspiring family. i am always amazing how you can find such fun things to do in the city, make it seem so downright doable and fun, all the while wrangling 3 small children and dressed in such adorably fashionably gear. I admire your faith, your dedication, and positive joyfulness. If I can get to New York this fall ( we are an expat family recently moved from South Korea, spending a year in Maine, then on to England next summer)… I’d love to hear your absolutely favorite must-dos as a family with children under 4.
    p,s, Ive been reading your blog for years, since Eleanor was first born. :) I love it, It seems much beyond me, and my style choices, but I just love it.

  20. Kat

    Great post! We do the order fast trick. We live in the Bay Areá so we are often waiting for tables too. We figure out what we are going to eat before we sit down. Once we are seated, I like to use a lot of questions as well to keep my daughter engaged. My husband and I try to keep our phones tucked away so we are engaged too. When we are having a wiggly day, I like to have a little drawing pad or letter/number exercise book handy. My daughter is four so we are working on basic words, writing and math. I think these are fun ways to keep her engaged but not notice if we have to wait a while for food. We also just picked up this doodle book that has step by step directions on how to draw characters. We brought it to brunch and it worked really well. Solenne and I spent an hour waiting for our table drawing fairies, mummies and other creatures.

  21. I love that you continue to prove that it is possible to raise a family in NYC! Such an awesome place for kids to grow up :)

    Christina | http://www.cuddlepill.com

  22. carly

    Great tips! I also think the hard pocketed bibs by baby bjourn are a life saver when going out with toddlers. That way if they drop their food they stay mainly clean and usually can just eat the food out of the bib
    Dresses & Denim

  23. Lolly

    Oh my goodness, those sticky rice hand photos. How did you get him clean and what kind of mess did it leave behind? Maybe wipe down the high chair before AND after!

  24. Bev

    Genius idea to ask for the check when the waiter brings your food! Thanks for the helpful tips :)

    ~ Bev

  25. Ashley

    Thank you so much for doing this post, Taza! So, so helpful! Love the ordering right away tip, as well as asking for the check when food comes. Brilliant. :)

  26. Felisha

    I’m not a mother yet, but these are the things you never think of before having kids. It sounds like quite the dinnertime adventure!

    http://www.smallestthing.com

  27. i really sometimes think you guys are super parents. like in midst of all that chaos, you still manage to capture beautiful moments. like how do you even have time to pull out the camera??

  28. T.

    You can buy cute toddler sporks to keep in your bag in case you go to a restaurant that has only chopsticks. That way your kids won’t have to eat rice with their hands.

  29. Tracie

    Great tips! Thanks Naomi. I’ve also found that sitting next to other kids is mesmerizing to my toddler. He could be entertained the entire meal just by watching other kids.