For many nannies, taking their charges out to eat is a welcomed change to the daily routine. But eating out with young children isn’t always fun and stress free. The good news is, with a little planning and preparation, dining out with your charges can be a great experience that provides opportunities to teach and reinforce acceptable mealtime and restaurant behavior.
Before heading out to eat with your charges, consider these 10 tips.
1. Do your research. Before heading out to eat, consider the restaurants in your area. Visit their websites or call ahead to confirm hours and the availability of a children’s menu. Have an idea of what you’re going to order for yourself and the kids prior to leaving the house.
2. Choose a kid-friendly restaurant. There’s nothing more stressful than being in a place where you know kids aren’t welcome. Restaurants with booths and bright lighting and those that advertise themselves as family-friendly typically are prepared to warmly welcome children. Kid-friendly restaurants will have things for the children to do while they wait for their food and will have a separate children’s menu. Once you’ve mastered eating out at casual restaurants, work your way up to fine dining establishments
3. Plan to go before hunger strikes. If you know the kids are typically ready for dinner at 5 o’clock, be seated by 4:30 so that their food arrives by 5. If you wait until the kids vocalize that they are hungry before heading out they likely won’t have the patience to wait for their food.
4. Pack snacks. For babies and young toddlers, packing puff like snacks, dry cereal, or oyster crackers can keep them occupied and provide them with something to munch on should they get hungry before their food comes.
5. Pack small items to keep the kids occupied. Depending on the child’s age rattles, crayons and paper, magnetic drawing boards, travel games, or brain teaser puzzle books can offer a distraction while waiting for dinner to arrive.
6. Plan for an hour. At kid-friendly restaurants, you should be able to be seated, order, and eat within an hour. Anything longer than that and the children will become antsy and be ready to move on.
7. Leave before the crowd. Timing your restaurant visit to end before the crowd comes in can ensure you get quick service. Getting the attention of your waitress when she has just your table is much easier than trying to flag her down when her section is full.
8. Have active time first. If you know that you’ll be heading out to eat, give young children an opportunity to run and play prior to visiting the restaurant. If they have a chance to burn some energy before heading out to eat they may be more likely to stay seated while dining out.
9. Bring a backup. Most family-friendly restaurant staff realizes that kids can be finicky eaters. Packing a backup of diced string cheese and berries can ensure your charge eats something should he refuse to eat what’s prepared at the restaurant.
10. Use natural learning moments. When dining out there are lots of opportunity to teach and reinforce good manners and social skills. Be a solid role model and teach your charges how to enjoy a restaurant meal and behave when dining with others. Look for opportunities to praise good behavior. Saying things like “Wow, I really like how you asked me to give you a napkin rather than reaching across the table for one” will reaffirm the importance of conducting yourself appropriately and making good choices when dining out.
Depending on your nanny position, you may or may not eat out regularly with the children. Since many parents are concerned about their children’s dietary needs and habits, you’ll want to be sure to ask permission before taking your charges out to eat.