Taking your kids out for a meal doesn't have to mean playgrounds, tantrums and kids menus. In this piece, dad, DJ and chef Andrew Levins looks at some tips to help you take the kids out for a night on the town, and have a great time doing it.
Chicken nuggets. The dish found on menus everywhere.
Whether you're dining at a pub, a pizzeria or even a Thai restaurant, you'll probably find chicken nuggets (usually accompanied by an exotic side of tomato sauce) on the menu. These usually show up at the top of the 'kids menu', the section of the page that insists anyone under the age of 16 is only able to eat bland, soggy, bite-size morsels of fried gristle, instead of the 30 other dishes that the restaurant actually takes pride in (not to mention promotes healthy eating habits in kids).
Here’s the thing – the kids menu is a suggestion, not a rule. Your kids can eat everything that you do and it isn’t all that hard to have them excited for a new meal.
There’s no reason your child even needs to know what a nugget tastes like until they're old enough to buy their own (can you imagine how much better that experience would be for them!), and there's no reason why dining with your children should be different to dining without them.
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Expanding your toddler’s tastebuds beyond nuggets and fries is as simple as giving them something that isn't nuggets and fries. Show them healthy eating habits by letting them eat what you eat.
Catering for kids
Not every restaurant will be super keen to cater to kids, no matter how well behaved you promise they are. Avoid the heartbreak of telling your child that you're heading back home by calling the restaurant in advance and asking them if it’s ok to bring kids. Opting for a lunch rather than a dinner is generally a better idea, as the restaurant is more likely to be quiet during daytime hours than they are during the bustle of night.
Next, in the lead up to going out for your fancy(ish) meal, tell your child about the food you’re about to eat. Give them an interesting piece of information to get them excited and prepare for the meal. Where is it from? What goes into each dish? What ingredients are similar to things they’ve eaten before?
Expanding your toddler’s tastebuds beyond nuggets and fries is as simple as giving them something that isn't nuggets and fries.
Sometimes it’s good to focus on the elements of a dish that you know your child likes and get them excited to try them in a different way. If your child loves chicken, start there. If they drool over lasagna, then that might be a great option for your first meal out. Then again, if your child hates chilli or certain spices, ask the chef if they can leave it out of the dish. The chef might even offer to cook a simplified version of something on the menu – make sure it isn’t the dish in nugget form before agreeing to this.
The wild child
Finally, be wary that no matter how prepared for this meal your child is, no matter how perfectly the chef cooks the dish to their exact tastes, your child might straight up refuse to even try the food that’s put in front of them. No amount of trying to convince them otherwise will stop them from saying this special meal is anything but disgusting. As a chef it can be humbling to hear such honest criticism of your hard work.
But these incidents are speedbumps, not roadblocks – plus you can consider that uneaten meal as a second course for yourself. Come ready with a bag of your child’s favourite snacks and give them your phone for a while. Some of my favourite meals from the last year were eaten alongside a two-year-old, contently eating rice crackers and watching Peppa Pig.
Don't let any bad toddler-dining experiences discourage you from trying it again. Familiarity makes every parenting situation easier and your child will be swapping nuggets for noodles in no time at all.