Having children changes your life, but it shouldn’t take all of life’s comforts away. Today, it’s easier than ever as a parent to fit in your workout with kids, travel with kids and even go out for drinks with your little ones in tow. Enjoying a meal at a real adult restaurant shouldn’t be any different. We asked two mom chefs how they manage to dine out with their families. With so much fine-dining experience under their belts, Happy Meals and gooey cheese pizzas aren’t even in the vocabularies of these fabulous girlbosses. Keep scrolling for their five-star tips for keeping kiddos happy at a grown up meal.
How to Keep Kids Happy at Restaurants
1. Opt for kid-friendly cuisines. Finding restaurants with kids menus isn’t necessary if you know there’s something on the regular menu they’ll eat. Rice or pasta dishes are an easy sell to kiddos, even for picky eaters. “I actually don’t make restaurants places to compel my kids to eat or try things if they don’t what to,” chef Alex Raij, the owner of Txikito, La Vara and El Quinto Pino in New York. Be happy that they’re behaving themselves and not screaming like banshees. “If they want to eat bread and butter and then not finish their meal, so be it,” she says.
2. Let them order what they like. Who can resist perfectly crisp fries, fresh from the fryer? Youngsters are no different. Raij has a clever trick for getting her kids to focus on the nutritious stuff: “I ask that french fries or other not very interesting but delicious favorites be fired and brought after the protein or vegetables.” That means they get a head start on their main courses before fries even reach the table.
3. Be flexible. Sometimes kids will entertain themselves with silverware or chopsticks, and other times they prefer to test the acoustics of the room. “I think it really depends on the kid and depends on the mood they’re in at the time,” says chef Alex Pemoulie, the mom to a toddler and the owner of Mean Sandwich in Seattle. To curb mini meltdowns, she plays Teletubbies videos on her phone for her daughter so she and her husband can quietly finish their meals.
4. Dine in restaurants that like kids. “Some restaurants just don’t care if your kids go play around in the dark, unused portion of the restaurant while you finish a meal with your husband or friend,” Raij says. “Use and support those places!” Finding that perfect combo of elegant and kid-friendly can seem daunting, but many review sites like Yelp and Foursquare mention if little ones are welcome. Other parents in your area may also have suggestions.
5. Seek out noisy places. Baby shrieks fit right in at high-volume restaurants. “If drunk people are welcome, kids usually fit in pretty well, as long as they allow kids under 21,” Pemoulie says. For her family, loud establishments with a bit more space are the way to go. “Honestly, it’s mostly about finding a restaurant where toddlers won’t be too interrupting.”
6. Spend quality time together. Going out is about enjoying your time as a family. That means tablets and other electronics get shelved (except for emergencies, of course). For Raij, who has a four and six-year-old, she focuses on table manners, like not talking with your mouth full and playing with the salt shaker. “We focus on enjoyment,” she says. Pemoulie waits until the food arrives before getting out toys and crayons. “She’ll either eat or do whatever we brought,” she says. She and her husband talk and sing with their daughter until the food is ready.
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(Photos via Getty)