Why I’d rather not eat meals with my kids

After two weeks straight of eating in restaurants while on vacation, Ian Mendes weighs the pros and cons of mealtime with kids.

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Ian’s daughter Lily enjoys her breakfast. Photo: Ian Mendes

Follow along as Ottawa-based Sportsnet host/reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters Elissa and Lily. And with all those away-games, his wife, Sonia, deserves her own version of the Stanley Cup.

We just got back from a two-week vacation, which included plenty of time on the beach in Cabo San Lucas.

While it sounds like an amazing vacation, fellow parents will agree with me that there is nothing relaxing about eating in restaurants with kids for 14 straight days. With each passing day, breakfast, lunch and dinner become less and less like meals and more and more like UFC cage matches.

So this week, I thought it would be fun to discuss the strategies around eating at restaurants with your kids. Do you order their meals first — or do they eat at the same time as you?

To be honest, this is like asking the question “Would you rather fight a shark or a bear?” Either way, you’re kind of screwed.

Read more: Why we often don’t eat dinner with our kids >

So let’s look at the pros and cons of each strategy to see if one method is better than the other.

Strategy No. 1: Ordering the kids’ meals first
The rationale: We’ve all walked into a restaurant with hungry kids and as the hostess is leading your family to the table you blurt out, “We’d like to order the kids meal now!!!” Kids have no ability to wait for anything and when you add hunger to the equation, it makes for a volatile situation. So by ordering their meal first, you are taking a proactive step to avoiding a disaster.

Pros:
• The decision on what to eat can be made quickly because if you’ve seen one kids menu at a chain restaurant, you’ve seen them all. Just tell the waitress, “This one will have chicken fingers and fries and that one will have a cheese pizza.” (This is assuming you’ve chosen to eat at a chain restaurant. If you haven’t, then I truly admire your sense of adventure).
• When the kids’ food arrives first, you can reach over and cut up their food without your own dinner being compromised.
• If you’re feeling hungry, you can easily steal some of their food before your meal arrives.

Cons:
• The food will probably be too hot to eat when it arrives at the table since the waitress ran to the kitchen and yelled “Code Red!” when she put in your order.
• When they’re finished dinner, they are guaranteed to ruin your meal with a variety of annoying comments and actions.

2. Ordering the kids meal at the same time as yours
The rationale: Kids need to learn a little patience, so making them wait to eat with the rest of the family can be a nice teachable moment. And besides, if they get super hungry you can just keep asking the waitress for more little packets of Premium Plus crackers.

Pros:
• To be honest, I’m having a hard time thinking of any benefits in this scenario. If you can think of any, please reach out to me on Twitter.

Cons:
• Before the meals arrive, the kids are guaranteed to ruin the atmosphere with a variety of annoying antics.
• If you are eating at a super classy Italian restaurant that offers unlimited breadsticks and salad, your child will be completely stuffed by the time their meal arrives at the table.
• Your own meal will be interrupted by having to cut up the kids’ food.

Final decision: If you absolutely have to eat out with the kids, I suggest going to a drive-thru and eating quietly in a parking lot. This way, the kids get their food right away and you don’t disrupt anybody else.

3 comments on “Why I’d rather not eat meals with my kids

  1. If your kids can’t behave in a restaurant, the fault isn’t with them. When my twins were very small, we carried a “restaurant bag”. In it were small toys, crayons and paper for them to use while waiting for their meals, and while waiting for us to finish ours. We taught them to sit at the table during meals and not run around like hooligans disrupting other diners. We taught them that eating out is a privilege, not a right, even on holiday. If they acted up or had a tantrum, one of us took the offending child out of the restaurant (after only one warning to settle down) so as not to disrupt our fellow diners. The remaining parent and child finished their meals, settled the bill and got the leftovers wrapped up. It didn’t happen often and we took turns when it did. As such, I would willingly take my girls, now 10, into any high end restaurant. In fact, last summer we took them to dinner at the local golf course’s 5-star restaurant.

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  2. We have experienced scenarios when the kids have been well behaved aas well as situations you have described above. The fault of children not behaving in a restaurant does not fall completely on the parents. We are disciplined with our girls (who are now 4 and 6), and have been in the situation where they are not in the mood to sit still. We stopped eating out for a while after the experience of sitting down, ordering and then deciding to just take it to go. Ways to not bother other patrons: I always bring snacks that they can eat while waiting for ther food to arrive; they will colour the pages provided by the chain restaurant; I also bring any special toys that they can play with (which they selected from home) and if all else fails if the service is slow, then one parent will take the kids for a walk outside, and then will recieve a text message when the food arrives ;) In any case we always order the kids food at the same time. We have gotten used to eating our food luke warm!

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  3. Pingback: Why I left a career in TV for my family - Today's Parent

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