When your child is a picky eater, heading to a restaurant can feel daunting. Who wants to go through all of the getting ready that going out with kids involves just to pay for a meal that your picky eater will barely touch? You leave frustrated, with a lighter wallet, and still have a hungry kid to feed when you get home. Fear not, I’ve gathered these restaurant tips from parents for picky eaters to help you try to actually
enjoy your time out and about again.
My husband is a veteran restaurant server with more than two decades of experience waiting tables everywhere from causal chains like Chili’s to one of the top steakhouses in the nation. He’s pretty much seen it all when it comes to picky kids and frazzled parents dining out. “Often, children in restaurants are treated as a burden instead of as an actual guest whose experience matters,” he tells me. “The kids that are the happiest are the kids who get to order their own food and be a part of the experience instead of a drawback from it. Making them feel like they’re actually a part of the meal really helps.”
The following hacks are from parents who have successfully survived the trials of restaurant trips with picky eaters. They can help get your kiddo more on board with eating out and perhaps even encourage them to try something new once in a while.
1 Pack Your Own Silverware
“Always bring a kid-sized fork and spoon to the restaurant, especially if they are fun ones your kids use at home. Sometimes the big forks and utensils at a restaurant can feel intimidating/hard to use and kids won't eat anything.”
Little hands and little mouths need little utensils, right? Plus, there’s something to be said about the familiarity of utensils from home to encourage your picky kids to actually eat when you go out.
2 Bring A Familiar Snack
“We always bring a snack we know our kids like — like applesauce or fruit or something easy — and we put it next to their plate of restaurant food so it's something super familiar to encourage them to try new foods.”
It’s also great to have a snack on hand for when you have to wait a while for a table, or when there’s a backup in the kitchen and your food takes a while. A hungry toddler is fun for no one. Try small snack bags of things like Goldfish crackers or pretzels, or even a banana or container of their favorite cut-up fruit or veggies.
3 Order Your Kid’s Meal Early
“Ask for your kid's food to come out when you're having appetizers. That way they aren't too fussy when their food finally does come out. Our kids are more likely to eat when their meal comes out with our appetizers, and then they are usually much happier when it's time for
us to eat.”
I’m not happy when I’m hungry, either. This hack just makes so much sense.
4 Skip The Water Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images
“Get them a fun drink! Chocolate milk or apple juice always add a certain ‘allure’ to restaurant meals and our kids are always so excited and happy.”
Ordering a cocktail with your meal just makes everything seem fancier and more fun, right? This is the same thinking — juice, soda, lemonade, or even a milkshake — just make it fun for them. We’re pretty much a water-only family at home, but when we go out, this trick has served us well.
5 It’s OK To Order Chicken Nuggets...
“Just order what you know they'll eat. My family and I love going to restaurants, but we want to
enjoy it. So we get our kids what they'll eat. Even if it's just a grilled cheese or chicken tenders or whatever. A restaurant is not the time to try and get my kid to like green beans.”
Parents of picky eaters know that getting their kids to try new things isn’t always the most pleasant of experiences. Even if you’re at the finest of fine dining restaurants or trying new cuisine somewhere, most places won’t mind whipping up something like a grilled cheese as long as they have the ingredients — just ask.
6 ...But Order Veggies, Too
“We always get a side of veggies for our kid, but we also give them french fries or mashed potatoes or whatever other side we know they'll eat. Just trying to expose them to veggies outside of home.”
Especially if your child is hesitant about vegetables, just seeing them on a plate at a restaurant where they like to eat can be a helpful way to nudge them in the direction of trying a bite. (Plus, you can always take the leftovers home.)
7 Help Your Kid Stay Comfy
“Bring whatever they need to sit comfortably. Nobody wants to eat if they can't reach the table, so we always pack a booster seat.”
Not every restaurant has booster seats available, but some do. It’s a good idea to call ahead and check or just bring your own so that your kid can sit comfortably. A
foldable booster seat is easy to keep in the car for restaurant trips.
It’s also smart to bring a jacket or even a small lap-sized blanket in case they get cold — nobody wants to be chilly while they eat.
8 Explore The Menu Together martin-dm/E+/Getty Images
“Help them read the menu. My daughter is just starting to read and it’s been fun to test out her reading skills at restaurants. She’s even been inspired to get something new just because she figured out how to read it on the menu.”
Even if it's just reading the kid’s menu, this tip can strengthen reading comprehension and help kids potentially explore new food options in one fell swoop.
9 Give Them A Bite Off Your Plate
“My kids stuck with kids’ meals for a long time, but even at their pickiest, they were allowed to try a bite or two of our food if they wanted.”
I can speak from personal experience here and say that this tactic worked with my oldest son. He was the kid who would order nothing but chicken tenders and fries no matter where we ate, but at one meal, he (oh-so-cautiously) tried a bite of bacon-wrapped shrimp from my husband’s plate and loved it. After that, he started to branch out more and more.
10 Let Them Order Their Food
“Starting from a young age, my kids were allowed to order their own food. They get to talk to the server themselves and say what they want to drink and to eat. It’s not necessarily about them being less picky, but about them feeling included and confident, and that confidence might encourage them to eventually try something new, too.”
This is such a great way to build up your child’s confidence and social skills. After all, they’ll grow up soon enough and need to know how to interact with others in a restaurant setting.
11 Bribe Them
“Bribe them with dessert. My kids will almost always finish their meal out when they know they’ll get dessert after.”
Bribery isn’t every parent’s go-to, but even used sparingly, it can be a helpful trick to get picky kids on board with restaurant food. This hack can also help kids behave better when out to eat. (Speaking from personal experience.) Even if it’s not dessert, but the promise of some extra screen time or something similar could work.