Tips for Eating out with Your Kids

Planning ahead is the key to a smooth meal out with kids in tow

Credit: Flickr / Tetra Pak

It’s easy to make eating out with the kids a happy experience for everyone

You don’t have to give up great meals at your favourite restaurants just because you have kids. Here’s how dine out successfully as a family

Dining out with your kids not only ensures you get a night out every once in awhile, it also allows for important family time. And making sure it all goes smoothly is about planning. Here are some tips for dining out with kids, shared by parents and restaurant professionals.

1. Carry a Bag of Tricks
Never underestimate the value of dollar store toys. They won’t hurt your bottom line but will improve your chances of a peaceful meal. Mom and travel writer Heather Greenwood Davis says, “Make sure to keep the toys to things that don’t make too much noise or have too many pieces and the restaurant staff will be happy, too.”

2. Time Your Meal Appropriately
Mary Macintyre of Little Nest restaurant suggests being sensitive to children’s delicate window of patience and timing meals, and the pace of eating, according to your own child’s temperament. This might mean arriving when children are less-than-starving; an early supper might also mean the restaurant is less busy and better able to offer your family more attention. Macintyre suggests ordering appetizers and meals to come at once, so you don’t ask too much of a child who might get bored sitting through a lengthier meal.

3. Order in Advance or Pack Snacks
To avoid hunger-induced meltdowns, acquaint yourself with the menu online or call in advance. If the restaurant doesn’t offer a menu just for kids, ask what accommodations can be made. Macintyre suggests packing a small snack or even a meal for pickier children, but be sensitive to the mess-factor: perhaps a slice of bread and cheese is a better choice than messy crackers.

4. Choose a Family-friendly Restaurant
There are advantages to choosing restaurants that cater to families. This can mean staff is attuned to the needs of little ones, or that the restaurant offers kid-friendly amenities like kid-specific menus, play areas and special events designed for families. As Suzanne Fielden of Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company says, “Our staff are used to working around little ones.”

5. Practice before Going Out
Model good dining behaviour at home and use mealtime as an opportunity to talk about your family rules when it comes to eating. For special occasions, try a little role play prior to the event. Stage your dining room like a restaurant and get the kids involved in pretending you are dining out. This offers a great opportunity to lay down the rules, as well as a safe and comfortable environment for trying out new things.

Family-Friendly Dining in Vancouver

These five restaurants, some with multiple locations, in the Vancouver area offer kid-friendly dining experiences. In addition to having staff accustomed to working around children, these restaurants offer change tables, high chairs, booster seats and the following extra features.

Boston Pizza
With many locations in the Vancouver area, Boston Pizza welcomes children of all ages. Special amenities include:

  • Kid’s menu: Choice of meal, drink, dessert and a fun kid’s pack
  • Special offers such as discounted meals certain nights of the week
  • Community programs that support local projects, including schools fundraisers
  • A kid-friendly website with coloring pages you can download and special wallpapers

Old Spaghetti Factory
The Old Spaghetti Factory has multiple locations in the Vancouver area offering:

  • A fun, kid-friendly interior
  • Kid’s menu: choice of meal, drink and dessert
  • Kid-friendly and adaptable fare: what child doesn’t love pasta!

Little Nest
This Vancouver hotspot caters to families by offering a fine balance between an adult space and a kid-friendly environment. Open for breakfast and lunch. Also provided:

  • Kid’s menu with a focus on healthy, fresh food
  • Ample interior space to accommodate strollers and car seats
  • A children’s play area
  • Peanut-free kitchen

Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company
This Vancouver gem has two locations (and one in Alberta) serving up delicious fare and the following kid-friendly amenities:

  • Kid’s menu featuring local produce and organic food selections
  • An all-natural play area featuring wooden ovens, play food and aprons
  • Special events like weekly pizza-making times for kids on Sundays and Mondays from 5-7 pm. Contact each location for further information

White Spot Restaurant
Always a family favourite, this BC-based chain, with locations in Alberta and Asia, offers kid-friendly fare in a relaxed environment. Features include:

  • Kid’s menu offering choice of meal including a drink and ice cream dessert
  • Kid’s food served in a fun, take-it-with-you, Pirate Pak
  • An affordable menu for dining out on a budget

Karen Bannister is a writer and editor living in New Westminster, BC, with her family. She is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her third child along with her husband and soon-to-be big brother and sister.