One of my favorite activities with my family is enjoying a meal out. Sitting together on a restaurant patio, having conversation and enjoying good food…dreamy. The reality is, many parents struggle with taking their children out to eat. They worry they will make a scene, that their child will misbehave, or they will end up putting a screen in front of their child to distract them. Today I’d like to share an excerpt from my upcoming book about food and family. (Stay tuned for a release date).
Here are a few of my best tips to help you prepare for a meal out with your young children:
- Practice: Having sit-down dinners at home is a preparation for eating at a restaurant. Each time you sit down as a family for a meal at home, you are practicing for your next meal out as a family.
- Bring a set of dishes: It may be helpful to bring your child-size plate, glass, and flatware that your child uses at home. Restaurants do not often have these items available, making it difficult for your child to fully participate in the meal.
- Invite your child to be a part of the process: Take the opportunity to introduce pictures on the menu or new words. Discuss options with your child and then give him two to choose from. Even pre-verbal children can suggest preferences with facial expressions and hand gestures.
- Choose your seating wisely: Make sure to be seated in a way that your child can see people or look outside., Check that he won’t get overwhelmed and that he is not facing a screen.
- Ask for your meals to be served together: Many restaurants assume that children should be served first. The difficulty with this is, when a child finishes eating just as the parents’ meals arrive, the child is ready to move onto the next activity and the parent hasn’t eaten. This often results in one parent taking the child outside while the other eats alone. This is no fun. A purpose of a family meal out is to eat together, therefore, everyone should be served at the same time.
In order to maximize the possibility of an enjoyable family meal out, keep in mind the time of day—is your child usually getting ready for sleep at this time? Consider his activity of the day—has it been a full day of activity (this might just be too much to ask)? What about his level of hunger? Is your child hungry enough for food to keep his attention, or is he over-hungry and asking him to wait is not going to work? All of these will factor into his ability to sit and enjoy a meal while out.
One of the things I love the most about this time of years is all of the wonderful opportunities to bake with my children. I always enjoy baking with them and at this time of year, we spend a lot of time in the kitchen together. As they get older, they take on more responsibility in the kitchen. Just last weekend E made a lemon meringue pie from scratch. It was wonderful to watch him work and to enjoy the pie together after dinner!
Baking with children when they are young is important. It educates their senses and connects them to their culture. As my children become more independent in the kitchen, I find myself offering more classes at Studio June to families with young children so they can bring this experience home too. Check out our new Bake with Me 3-5 years class at Studio June!
Bake with Me 3-5 years
Follow Studio June on Facebook for discounts and promo codes. HINT: There’s one up right now: BAKENOW
For those of you unable to join us for a class, here are some tips to help get your child involved in the kitchen:
- Work at your child’s level. Although a Learning Tower or a step stool has its’s benefits in bring your child to counter height, working at a low table can help your child feel in control during baking projects. He is better able to move around and stabilize his body for big movements like mixing and grating.
- Take your time when introducing each ingredient. Give your child time to smell the spices, feel the skin of the fruit, and even squeeze the dough. These are important sensorial impressions he needs to incorporate into his knowledge of these experiences.
- Take turns. Show him how to mix, and assure him that he will get a turn to try too. After you show him, invite him to have a turn. Then ask to have a turn again. Taking turns builds a great foundation of collaborative work.
- Have a child sized spoon (links to a great children’s cooking set!) and a adult size spoon for mixing. This way you each have the tool that fits your hand. Children learn to control their movements best when their tools are sized for their body. This also allows you to show your child how to mix properly with a spoon that is sized right for you.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let the little spills and drips go. You can keep a wet sponge near by and invite him to wipe up in between each step. Allow the bits of flour to fall on the table or the milk to drip from the pitcher spout. He will get more coordinated with experience and he will appreciate your calm demeanor while he is learning.
- Use a clear acrylic mixing bowl so he can see the mixture as you combine the ingredients. It’s like watching the polar bears swim from the underwater room at the zoo (or if you slip through the ice at the North Pole!).
Now that another school year has started my children have once again been challenged by their teachers to bring a balanced lunch to school. When packing lunches the conversation around proteins, grains, fruits and veggies has been wonderful. I take the opportunity to test my children’s understanding of how their foods are wade and all their ingredients.
This is no accident, maybe a little unforeseen, but I have been setting this stage from their first meal. Each of them had their first solid food meal at about 6 months. At a calm time of the day I introduced a complete meal in replacement of a liquid meal. I set the table with a special set of dishes, a napkin, placemat, and bib, and sat across the table as now it was their turn to eat, not cradled in my arms – latching on, but at a table as a separate person from me: my show of respect for their development and individuality.
We do not have a history of food allergies in our family, so although I was quite aware and observant when offering new foods, I was not particularly concerned. The first meals need protein, grain, healthy fats, fruits and veggies, and water: all the components that their meals need now. I started with puréed foods and after just a few short weeks moved to chunkier, mashed foods and soft bite-size foods. This transition helped them to be more independent in eating as well as didn’t prolong the liquid and purée stage. Trying new textures early in the introduction of solid foods allowed my children to have more variety in their diet and stay open to trying new foods.
An example of one of their first meals is: Peaches, roasted sweet potatoes with olive oil, rice cereal and hard boiled egg yolk with breastmilk. So many textures and flavors and a complete meal – worthy of replacing a milk meal. After all, they received a full meal when nursing, it was important for me to continue that into their new solid meals.
Making sure even the first meal is a complete meal helps to lay the foundation for a healthy relationship with food. Sure they have foods they prefer, don’t we all? But they are far from picky eaters.
Young children are so interested in using their skills to take care of people and things around them. With the right tools and preparations, this can be a joyful and empowering process for child and parent!
As a parent, one of the most rewarding moments of the day can be when we all sit down together for a meal. Sharing food is such an important part of our culture and being able to see my children sit, enjoy the food, use appropriate manners, have conversation, and take part in this cultural ritual is so satisfying.
This is not my experience at every meal, or even everyday. Continue reading “Let’s Eat! (Together!)”