If your family is like many others in Beijing, eating out has become a way of life. This convenience comes with the added pressure of getting our children to eat right, without being in the privacy of our own homes. Your child’s diet, his dining skills – and most of all – your own patience are all put to the test. To help things along, here are my tips for dining out:
It is all a learning experience. Sitting still and being quiet with a napkin across the lap throughout the entire meal does not come naturally to kids. Give them a chance to practice each time you eat out, and praise all attempts – even if they’re just successful for a few minutes.
Pick the right restaurant. If the restaurant is ready with a box of crayons and coloring sheets or even a play corner, it is a good bet. When your children’s mealtime skills mature, they can dine out at restaurants that cater to more mature crowds.
Navigate kids’ meals. Many restaurants offer great opportunities to expose children to new foods and flavors, but children’s menus tend to carry unhealthy items like French fries, pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, and hamburgers. Whenever possible, make substitutions and preparation requests. Swap out the fries for something healthier and encourage your child to look beyond the kids’ menu. Don’t worry about being troublesome; a well-run restaurant should be happy to help if, for example, you ask for the teriyaki sauce on the side. Let your child have the chance to experience food for what it really is.
Share and share alike. Give your wallet a break and share your own entree. No only does this help you manage your own portions, but it provides your child with a chance to try new foods. I avoid most kids’ menus because of their limited nutrition and variety. My husband and I can easily reduce our own restaurant portions by sharing with our son.
View appetizers differently. Scaled-down versions of adult servings are useful alternatives to kid-sized entrees and are usually served quickly, so you can keep your child calm without having to wait for the main course to arrive.
I would love to see restaurants offer more healthy options for children. Restaurants should provide kid-sized pots of sauce, a few pieces of grilled vegetables, cut cucumbers, a couple of meatballs, falafels, or whatever in bite-sized pieces and small portions. Nutrition-conscious parents like me will appreciate the variety and effort.
Photo by Flickr user Luxury-Czech-Holidays