Out and About

August 14,2009
Sweet Pea Chef
Jessica Efird( )

Jessica, aka the Sweet Pea Chef, is a former U.S. Senate staffer/weekend gourmet turned full-time mom/family gourmet. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and two sons.

Last night I received an unexpected, yet very welcome compliment from a stranger. SPH and I had taken R and G out for sushi, when, at the end of the meal, our server shared with me, “your boys are the most well-behaved children I have ever seen in this restaurant. Ever.” The parent in me felt an immediate sense of pride, while the customer part of me thought to myself, “she is just trying to get a big tip.” Either way, I will take a (hopefully) genuine compliment from someone I don’t know, because it takes a bit of practice and patience to promote dining peace when going out with two preschoolers. At least, any dining establishment free of a children’s play area, large stuffed character, or other kiddie-distractions. When R was a baby, going out with him was a cinch. We would pop him into his car seat and he usually slept right through the meal. But as his awake time and curiosity increased, it soon became more of a challenge to eat a nice meal, just the three of us. Of course ideally SPH and I would always have a sitter at our beckon call so we could dine out alone. But since eating out as a family is a more regular occurrence, we’ve relied on some simple steps (some learned from others, some learned by experience) to help young children behave, even at a sushi restaurant. First, in simple terms explain to your child(ren) ahead of time what behavior is expected of them. Make it sound like fun privilege to go to a “very fancy restaurant” (in our home, anything other than fast food is a very fancy restaurant). Start by trying restaurants that are more informal, without a server, to practice good manners to if there is an incident, you can flee, fast. You can even go further, and have them dress up to go out. Next, come prepared! Depending on their age, bring some simple things they can play with at the table. Our restaurant bag has crayons and some paper, a few matchbox cars, a small magnetic board game, a few Take-Along Thomas cars, and books. We bring one thing out at a time to keep them occupied if we have a long wait. For very young children, you may even want to bring a small snack, so their hunger doesn’t lead to a meltdown. Be sure not to neglect them involving your little ones with the whole restaurant experience. Never underestimate the excitement and fun of reading them the menu, talking about the different kinds of food, sharing with them about what would be fun to order. When you children are older, let them order themselves, or ask for things they might need at the table. Going out for diverse cuisines can also be fun…using chopsticks for sushi or experiencing Indian Naan can help make for a fun distraction. Lastly, when the inevitable restaurant meltdown occurs, smile gracefully and remember that no parent has ever been spared the occasional embarrassment. Yours truly included! SPC