As I juggle my four-year-old girls, taking them out to eat more often than most kids their age, I've learned a lot about how to keep them calm–and myself sane. I offer up these tips on how to enjoy happy meals without having to resort to, well, Happy Meals.
Order ASAP.1 of 9
Hungry–or hangry–kids are no fun at all. If you know what your kids like at a certain restaurant, go ahead and order right when you sit down. Let the kids start eating while you glance over the menu in peace.
Get snack happy.2 of 9
Snacking kids are happy kids, no matter what your parents used to say about eating between meals. As a back-up plan, stash something small in your bag that won't ruin their appetites, just in case of delays. I never leave home without at least a small bag of freeze-dried fruit or some veggie straws.
Don't play musical chairs.3 of 9
It wasn't easy, but we managed to teach our twins to sit and stay in high chairs by refusing to let them sit in our laps (or anyone else's) during meals. This makes for a much less chaotic restaurant experience for everyone in the group.
Bring a creative distraction.4 of 9
No, I don't suggest bringing a toy box to a fine dining establishment, but crayons and paper can certainly be your friend. Fill individual zipper pouches with crayons or colored pencils and a couple of small notepads, then toss them in the car so you will have them at the ready when you need them.
Don't rely on the kids' menu.5 of 9
My kids love meat. Often, I'll order pot roast or brisket for them, rather than something off of the restaurant's kid's menu. Maybe your little ones are the same, or maybe they love soup or pasta–you get the idea. I'd rather my kids try something new that I'm pretty sure they'll enjoy, instead of the same old dumbed-down choices.
Take a time-out.6 of 9
If your kid is gearing up for a fit–and parents, you know when it's coming–remove the soon-to-be-offender promptly. Kids lose it sometimes, and that's OK. They often just need to go outside, calm down, get distracted by something and then move on. Odds are, they'll return in a few minutes like nothing even happened–and because you headed off that fit before it began, nothing actually did.
Avoid handing over the phone.7 of 9
No judgment here, but if you think it would be rude to watch an episode of "The Crown" on your phone or tablet inside a restaurant, your kids shouldn't be watching "Peppa Pig" either.
Relax!8 of 9
You are always focused on your kids, but remember, most of the other folks at the restaurant are not thinking about what your kids are or are not doing. So, relax and allow yourself to be present. Enjoy your meal with your family. You earned it and you should do it again sometime!