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RESTAURANTS

I get a lot of questions and complaints about kids in restaurants. The questions come from busy parents; the complaints from disturbed diners!

Families today eat out a lot. As more and more mothers work outside the home, more and more of the family food budget is used at restaurants. Just look around your town – all those eating establishments were built to meet the demand.

Eating out can save time for a busy family because somebody else does the shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. And eating out can certainly relieve some of the stress on employed mothers. They not only don’t have to do the cooking and cleaning tasks tonight but also can enjoy being served.

The most important thing a family can do is PICK THE RIGHT RESTAURANT. Young children are not designed to sit quietly and wait for food. They get a near-terminal case of the “squirmies” and can make the entire family, if not the entire restaurant, miserable.

The right kind of restaurant offers fast service. It is not the place to go for elegant, leisurely dining. Go there on your anniversary, but leave the kids at home with a sitter.

FAST FOOD/FAMILY RESTAURANTS

Fast food places offer families with young children speedy service and many have a place for the children to play. What about the food? Too much fat? Too much salt? Yes, children over 2 should have a diet moderately restricted in fats and yes, fast food can be over-salted. But once in a while–say once a week–it’s OK.

Other parents, me included, really don’t care for fast-food menus. Believe it or not, though I have lived in the US all my life, I don’t like burgers! But again, once in a while like when the grandchildren are visiting, I can manage.

The “family” restaurant usually has a varied menu but it does take longer. Strategies: Take food for the baby. Ask for rolls or crackers when your server takes your drink orders especially if you know the children are hungry. Even if they are not running on empty, when they see other customers get served they may start whining for food.

STRATEGIES WHILE WAITING

I never left the house to go to a restaurant without something in my purse to keep the children busy. I always carried pencils or crayons and paper (although the back of a paper place mat works fine). When the children were older I asked them what book they wanted to take along.

We initiated our children early into games that require nothing but your brain. Early on they could play games like “I’m thinking of something that begins with the letter—” or “I spy something red.” When they got older we played word games like Ghost or Botticelli (sometimes called Buddha). Still older, the children could enter into a discussion with us about our next vacation or a current events issue while waiting for the food to arrive.

WHO ORDERS?

When do you let children order from the menu? Ideally they should be able to read both the words and prices and understand enough about family finances to know whether it is permissible to order lobster.

But children should be encouraged to choose and explore new foods just as they should be encouraged to be curious about the rest of the world. A restaurant is a good place to do some of this. One way is to offer them a taste of an unfamiliar food from your plate.

If your children are preschoolers, the family rule should be that the parents order. We did this because we knew what our kids liked and were likely to eat–both the type and amount of food. But we always asked, “Would you like chicken or fish, baked potato or mashed?” so that the children were involved in the decision from an early age.

When the children get older, they should be given the grown-up privilege of ordering for themselves. It’s both fun and good practice for when their parents won’t be there to do it for them. If they don’t like what they ordered, let them fill up on bread and milk and take their entree home for the dog. All the parent should do is remind them next time that they don’t like anchovies on their pizza if they start to make the same mistake again.

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