Going out to eat without children is pretty stress-free, the hardest part of the night would be deciding where to eat.
Going out to dinner with kids, things become more complex, packing items as if you are going on a cross country trip, keeping the seated, entertained and getting them to eat, pretty tough.
Going out with a child who is a Picky Eater, this situation can be a nightmare.
The entire purpose of going out to eat is to give yourself and your family a fun night out. To try new foods and of course, not having to cook then clean up dinner. What often ends up happening is more stressful, your child refuses to eat and then you have to go home feeling frustrated and begin to make them dinner.
So how do you keep the entire family happy, and also fed????
Here are some tips to help you the next time you decide to take your picky eater out.
Let Your Child Choose
Let your child choose what they want to eat off the menu giving them a sense of control over what they eat. If your child decides to order Mac & Cheese or chicken nuggets, that is ok. We all treat ourselves to something when we go out to eat so why can’t they?
Pack a Snack
As adults, waiting for food when you are hungry is nearly impossible. Waiting for food as a kid is very difficult as well. So, bring a snack to help them hold themselves over. This will help them wait for their food. Healthy food choices to bring; pretzels, cut vegetables, and fruit cups. You could also request that your child’s food be brought out when your appetizers are brought out.
Bring your child’s utensils from home to make them more comfortable. It is important that they are able to utilize utensils appropriately and functionally.
Order vegetables and healthy side choices. It is important to be a good role model and show your child how you like vegetables. DON’T force them to eat it. Let them see you and others eating the vegetables, even outside your house. Seeing the vegetables on everyone’s plate will help desensitize them and more likely to try it.
Check Their Posture
When working in a school or home, we always look at proper posture. A child should be sitting upright in what’s called the “90, 90, 90” position (hips, knees, and ankles all are 90 degrees). When you sit at a desk to work or sit at your dining room table, your feet are planted firmly on the ground, your knees are bent as well as your hips. This posture allows you to maintain an upright and stable posture. If you are leaning too far back or slouched it will impact your ability to sit for a long period of time. This will cause your child to become fidgety and distracted. Call the restaurant prior to your arrival and make sure they have high chairs or booster seats. If they don’t bring a portable one that will allow them to be seated comfortably and properly.
Make sure your child is not too hot or too cold. You can have them wear layers and if the restaurant is too hot, they can remove a layer. In order to be comfortable enough to eat, your child needs to feel relaxed. If they are wearing an “itchy” outfit, it will make them feel anxious which will, in turn, ruin your night. We live in a wonderful world where a child can have a tagless shirt and comfy pants that look a little nicer than the stuff we wore as kids. As adults we wear clothing that we pick out so, let your child help pick out an outfit that they will feel great in. For parents who are reading this saying “ My child will want to wear their princess dress or pj’s” what then???? I say, give your child an option of a fancier top with leggings or comfy workout pants with a nice cotton top. Or have them choose between 2 outfits that you picked out. You can let your child know that the restaurant only lets them in if they are wearing appropriate attire.
Release the Energy
I always tell parents if they know they are going out, and they have a sensory child, try to get a nice workout in with them 2 hours prior to going to the restaurant. This will allow your child to be more calm and able to handle the restaurant. Examples are playground play, jumping on the trampoline, basketball, completing an obstacle course, boxing with a heavy bag and boxing glove, anything with movement and proprioceptive input. This will allow your child to feel regulated.
Keep Them Busy
Bring items with you to help your child be distracted. Coloring books, play doh, or even fidgets all help your child to be entertained. This also helps pass the time in a fun way.
Visit During Non-Peak Hours
Find out when the restaurant is not busy To help children who are hypersensitive towards sensory input, going to a restaurant and beating the rush is a great way to get quick service without overwhelming your child. This also helps alleviate stress because you won’t have to worry about being disruptive towards other patrons.
Read The Menu
If your child is practicing reading, have them read you the menu. By reading out the items, you are improving their reading comprehension and allowing your child to learn about the various options they have. They will feel empowered and willing to pick something off the menu.
Going out to eat can be a wonderful experience. Taking these steps will help you and your family have a successful night out!!!
Sarah Appleman MS, OTR/L is the author of “Play With Your Food” and is a specialist in her field.