Ages 2-4 may be the most difficult time to dine with children. They are eating on their own, have little personalities, are perfecting the use of the word "No" while throwing themselves on the floor. But for all the frustration this age brings, it's the perfect time to set their taste buds up for success. Expose, expose, expose. These are the sponge years, where tiny humans are soaking up everything around them.
- Take your tot to less familiar restaurants; possibly without a kids menu or booster seats. You can always bring a seat with you. There's no reason eating at a trendy restaurant with a diverse menu is out of the question.
- Dine early and off-peak.
- Keep the meal under an hour by avoiding slower service or ultra busy restaurants.
- Practice manners and sitting. Remember to bring those quiet activities. Running around is not acceptable in a restaurant.
- Don't overwhelm those teeny taste buds. Order a dish similar to what your child eats at home, then slip in a couple of items from your own plate for them to try.
- Teach course pacing. Ask your server to bring out your child's meal at the same time as your own. Order a shared appetizer while you wait.
Your baby is riding the bus, on the soccer team and doing homework. You're parents of a full-time student. You're also parents of a dining expert in the making. While your child may not be a fan of foie gras, having exposed her to a variety of foods, she has developed likes and dislikes. But she's also willing to take risks in her choice of sustenance.
Tweens 'n teens
You've spent the past few years teaching your child to be a savvy supper. She's now a culinary risk-taker with carefully crafted skills. Feasting as a family at swanky joints like Atlas or Kimball House is a breeze, because you no longer worry about being THAT table. But there is one more lesson your child must learn before setting her loose on the dining world. The check.
- After the meal, don't be afraid to show your child the cost breakdown for each item. Let her figure out how much the meal was per person.
- Task her with calculating the tip for the server. Twenty percent is customary for good service.
- Help your child understand the server's need for a tip and why it is important to leave one.
Starting the process early and eating out as often as you can afford helps your child develop a life skill instead of the much-feared, public Clash of the Titans battle of wills. You want to raise a savvy diner. It will be a practice in patience, trial and error and sometimes embarrassing moments —but you've got this.