By Kathryn Peck
As a mom of 4, I can relate to the feeling of despair when someone suggests, “Why don’t we go out to eat tonight?” The intention is to be easy, right? If you’re like me, instead of pondering the meal options in your mind and savoring the fact that there’s no cleanup in your future, you immediately rush to gather snacks for the little ones, crayons and paper in the off-chance they don’t have any at the restaurant, as many smaller-sized travel activities that can fit into your bag, leaving just enough room for handy wipes for inevitable extra spills. Then the rush for shoes and socks and coats, and my lecture on behaving well in public follows.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are ways to make a night out with the kids less stressful and even, perhaps, fun for everyone.
Consider these tips beforehand:
- Managing your expectations. Lower the bar a bit here. Kids can be loud, antsy, and fidgety, and this won’t change just because you’re at the restaurant. Remind yourself that with the kids along, it’s not exactly an “adult night out.” With this in mind, save the adult conversation and include the kids in age-appropriate conversations about school, sports activities, scouts, etc.
- Get there early. I know, it’s no fun eating out at 5 pm, but getting there and getting everyone settled before the crowds is a huge bonus. Getting there early also means there’s probably less of a wait for a table, too. (And waiting for a table with kids, for me, is where I might as well throw in the towel and go home for dinner.)
Prepare ahead of time. One thing I know is that my kids don’t have the patience to wait for me while I analyze the menu and weigh my options for sides. So take a few minutes before you leave to look at the menu ahead of time online. Not only will it speed up the ordering process at the restaurant (when everyone is suddenly starving), but it’ll also free you up to help the kids at the table with their own decision making, too.
- Don’t let others ruin what could be a fun night out. If you’re worried about what other patrons might be thinking when, for instance, you give up and hand your child your phone for a few minutes of screen time before ordering, don’t. It is what it is, and you’re doing the best you can.
- Pack some things to keep them busy. This can be screens, books, crayons. Reusable stickers. Here are a few great items to stash away in your bag:
1. Space Bound Shine Bright Magnetic Playset: This play set features a female astronaut with a space seen & magnetic accessories. The tin opens to reveal 2 scenes plus 25 magnetic pieces.
2. Mini Scratch & Scribble, Dinosaur Days: We love this little activity because it’s 99% mess free! Use the wooden tool to scratch away the black and discover what pictures are underneath. Each scratch is a different color, and once complete, kids will see different pictures on different cards.
3. World of Eric Carle Memory Match: Children will quickly recognize the iconic characters from Eric Carle's picture books, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do you See?," and others in this memory match game. Packaged in a mini box, this game is perfect for party favors, stocking stuffers, or fun on the go!
4. Make No Mistake Erasable Markers: There are no mistakes thanks to these amazing erasable markers! On the end of each maker is an eraser tip, which can also be used to add interested details and texture to colored drawings, too. This set includes 12 markers.
5. Wild Mix-Up Magnetic Build-It: This set includes 2 illustrated scenes and 3 sheets of mix and match magnets for creating your own wild animals! The sturdy tin package offers hours of imaginative play with easy cleanup and storage of pieces.
About the author: Kathryn is the owner of Bicycle Pie and mom of 4 little ones. Also a writer, editor, and former owner of one of Boston's premiere baby boutiques, she continues to write about motherhood, children's products, family life, and all other things that test our skills and patience as parents.