Eating Out with the Kids
How can we order food that our children will like and that’s easy to manage? What is a normal expectation for a preschooler who may want to dine on bread alone?
While on vacation we were treated to some nice restaurant meals. We don’t go out to eat very often, so it was very exciting for the whole family. One restaurant was particularly memorable: We went out to lunch with my sister’s family to a kosher Italian restaurant.
Our choices on the children’s menu consisted of fish-and-chips, pizza and pasta. After a small debate on what would be best, we ordered individual dishes of pasta and tomato sauce for the three kids so as not to cause any squabbles among them. First, the wait staff brought out bread and butter, which the kids naturally gravitated towards, as it was warm and fresh. Then came the main courses. The children’s meals included plates of pasta that were huge, with an entire bowl of tomato sauce on the side, chopped Israeli salad and lemonade to drink. The portion sizes were well more than they could manage, and the presentation wasn’t very appealing.
So what do you think the kids ate? Bread and butter, of course. How did we feel as parents? Aggravated, as our promising meal out became stressful. Each kid ate a few bites of pasta with cheese (from my salad). They didn’t touch their chopped salads, but drank their lemonades and wanted refills. We left the restaurant with a lot of untouched pasta and salad, and a little bewildered as to why the experience wasn’t a success.
I reflected on my preconceived notions of how going out to eat with kids should be. I realized that I need to shift my expectations, but I still had a lot of unanswered questions. How can we order food that everyone will like and that’s easy to manage? What is a normal expectation for a preschooler who may want to eat bread as part of their meal? In short, how can we provide balanced meals for our children at restaurants and have a satisfying experience for the whole family?
Here are some pointers that I learned. Since children’s menu choices are extremely limited, try ordering from the adult menu and enjoy the food ordered family style. Let your child pick and choose from the dishes on the table. If you child chooses to eat bread, offer them some salad or protein as well. Try to get your children to choose from at least two food groups. Don’t force your children to eat something they don’t like because that will just make them upset. Be prepared to take home leftovers.
Eating at a restaurant is also a great time to teach children about manners. And what better place to learn about manners than from Chassidic rabbis? “It was noticed that Rabbi Nachman Tulchin was very careful not to complain about any deficiency in the food he ate, and everything that was served to him he ate without seasoning it with salt and the like.”
Of course, we do not expect our children to be on the level of Chassidic rabbis, but we can teach them how to politely say “No, thank you,” if they don’t care for something. Then they can choose other food choices they see on the table and do enjoy.
At a restaurant, a parent can be creative but should set limits at the same time. Give your children a lot of options, but let them know that complaining about the food is not one of those options. Children need to do their part to make the meal out enjoyable for everyone. Hopefully, we will all enjoy the next time we get out of the kitchen and are served a meal.
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Aliza has a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s degree in Public Health from Ben Gurion University. She is an affiliate of the Ellyn Satter Institute. She lives in the northern Negev of Israel with her family.