See how calm, cool and collected I look in this picture above (taken by Declan btw 🙂 )? Not a care in the world, just having a nice relaxing dinner out in Rome with our 2 young kids as I leisurely sip my wine . . . not quite. Eating out can be one of the bigger challenges when it comes to traveling with kids, especially if your kids are picky eaters, full of energy, or, just, you know, normal kids. At ages 2 and 4 ours haven’t quite embraced our love of European café culture just yet. And yet, we didn’t want to let that ruin our meals (or those of other diners), so how did we deal on our 2 week trip? Here are a few of our tips and tricks (and I would SO LOVE to hear any of yours as well so please leave in the comments!)
1.) Embrace the mess (to an extent) – I don’t mean let your kids be wild animals and start a food fight, but the fact of the matter is they are kids and things are going to get a little messy. For this reason, we were not taking our kids to Rome’s fanciest restaurants, instead preferring cute restaurants on little cobblestone streets with authentic looking menus and outside seating (where we could preferably be at one end to minimize disruptions to other patrons). Water and ice are always a big hit with Arabella at the moment, so generally the second the water glasses go down her hands go in one. We have learned to choose our battles, so on a hot summer night where this kept her happily occupied for a while we couldn’t have cared less. And I mean, look at that face in the pic below – it makes her SO HAPPY. (If I have room I throw a change of clothes in the stroller just in case.)
BELLA’S DRESS: J. Crew
2.) Choose a place that has some kid-friendly options. I am a big believer of feeding kids what you eat and encouraging them to try new things, but you know your kids and what they will eat for the most part, and sometimes when traveling having something familiar when everything else is different is nice for them. Luckily, Italy is a very “kid-friendly” country in that regard, as pasta, pizza, breadsticks, and gelato are pretty uncontroversial in a pinch, not to mention a culture that just loves kids in general (we felt so welcome everywhere we went and the waiters were always so incredibly nice and fun with the kids.)
3.) Keep them involved in the conversation (but it needs to be a conversation that they can/want to be involved in) . We try to put our phones away at mealtimes (except for in the case of #6) and all be focused on each other. Sometimes it’s talking (what we did that day, what was their favorite thing we did/saw, what we are going to do tomorrow), sometimes it’s singing songs (right now it’s Moana or songs they learn at school), sometimes it’s playing games (napkins – peek-a-boo, hiding in general, straw wrappers – scrunching them all the way down then dropping water on them to make them grow like a worm, when I was 9 I learned how to make an origami bow tie out of a dollar bill and that is always a real crowd pleaser). Declan loves to play with my camera (NOT the big one but I let him take pics with my small point and shoot if he is very careful.) He also loves to see pictures and hear stories about what he was like when he was a baby – I showed him a video of him with the hiccups when he was about a month old and he thought it was the funniest thing ever. Also, poop jokes slay. It won’t be your most elevated dinner conversation but it keeps them a lot happier, more engaged, and usually better behaved when they feel involved and get attention rather than being ignored while the adults talk (or look at their phones – no judging, I do it way more than I want to admit.) Sometimes these dinners are a struggle and Chris and I are counting down the minutes till bedtime, but a lot of times they are great, we bond as a family, and have some funny story afterward – Declan is at the age where he says such hilarious stuff now and I love hearing his interpretation of the world around him. I’m trying to remind myself to write down all the funny things he and Bella say and do because it’s terrifying how fast I seem to forget everything.
4.) However, not everything is about them and it’s not all on their terms. They don’t have to eat everything (or anything for that matter) but they are expected to stay at the table while others are eating and have some basic manners (no throwing things, no screaming). We also don’t let them have dessert if they haven’t eaten “real food” first (the sugar high/crash makes bedtime a bad scenario).
5.) Have a couple (quiet) toys/activities – crayons and paper are always good and easy to throw in a purse. Same with a small car or train or something like that. Generally not good – anything that makes noise and will make your fellow diners want to kill you. Also, a ball of any kind (bad, trust me).
6.) So 1-5 are good and fine but kids are kids and are prone to have meltdowns – especially toddlers and especially if blood sugar is low, they aren’t sleeping well from jetlag, or in general are just having an off day. When all else fails (or if you have just had an exhausting day and need 20 min in relative peace with your pasta and wine) – go YouTube. I’m a fan of YT Kids as it pulls up all of their favorites and they can search around in there without you having to worry about them somehow accessing Tor and the dark web through your phone. Current favorites in our house are Peppa Pig, Curious George, and the Octonauts, and when Declan was younger we watched a lot of Mother Goose Club, which Bella now loves.
So those are some of our helpful hints for dining out with kids while traveling – please share any you have below too! I’m always in the market for new games to play with them, jokes they might find funny, great kid-friendly apps/games, etc. Thanks! 🙂