Eating out while on a trip or vacation, with or without kids, can become a stressful event. Going out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and maybe snacks too, every day throughout your vacation, can be tiring. Choosing a restaurant, driving, parking, waiting to be seated, reading the menu, consulting, deciding, ordering, waiting, paying, waiting… add kids to that… Oh, it makes me tired just to think about it.
Vacation is fun. Eating out is fun. But when it is done a 3-5 times a day, every day, for a week or so, it can turn into a not-so-much-fun experience. Here are a few tips and things to consider that we have learned on our last trip to Whistler, BC, last summer (a great place for a family vacation in the summer and winter, by the way).
Lessons learned and tips to share:
1. Book a hotel that serves breakfast. This will save you time and money and will make your morning more relaxed as you don’t have to go anywhere or drive to another location. You can go back to your room after you had your coffee and your belly is full to finish getting ready for the rest of the day.
2. Choose a room with a kitchenette or at least a mini refrigerator. This is great when you want to have a light and peaceful meal in the room, or a snack, as well as store leftovers from a restaurant meal. We usually buy some food at a local grocery store (like cheeses, deli meat, fruits and vegetables, bread, yogurt, and milk) and eat in the room at least once a day. We find it is much easier to do this when we are with the kids than to drag them to restaurants all day long. It cost less too.
3. The “kids menu”. We have fallen in the “kids menu” trap before and no need to say that we hated it. The selection of food from the “kids menu” can be frustrating. However, if you do order from the kids menu, check for quality. Taste a bite to make sure the food is fresh. If your child if fussy or picky and don’t want to eat their food, maybe it’s because it is not cooked right or taste good. Also, read my post: Kids’ menu – Is it good for them? Is it good for you?
4. Buy food to go. Young kids have a hard time sitting for long periods of time all nice and quiet. In the summer, you can buy sandwiches or a lunch basket and have a picnic by the lake. In the winter you can find a sheltered area or go back to your room and have an indoor “picnic” there.
5. Split and share. In most restaurants the serving size per person is huge and can feed 2 people, and sometimes even 4 people. To save money and extra pounds, you can order 2 entrées or a few appetizers for the whole family and share. I once overheard a waitress asking another customer if they have been to the restaurant before and know that the portions are large. She asked if they would like smaller portions. I asked her for smaller portions of what we ordered and it was perfect. Lesson learned –always ask.
6. Do you let your kids choose from the menu for themselves? On one hand, everyone gets to choose what they like at the restaurant, right?! On the other hand, if your child can’t read, you can skip those items you don’t want them to eat (for example, I tend to skip the PBJ sandwich, grilled cheese sandwich, Mac and cheese, pizza, etc). I admit, I lied in the past to my son and told him that the restaurant we were dining at doesn’t serve Mac and cheese. I read to him the items I wanted him to eat. He is a good reader now, so this strategy in no longer applicable. This is where our authority as parents and new strategies come to play in setting boundaries.
7. The Mac and cheese episode. Do you have a kid that will be happy if s/he can eat Mac and cheese all day long? Theoretically, we have one of those (“Theoretically” because we don’t want to test it to find out). Now we limit M&C to once a week while on a trip, and chicken strips with fries every now and then. If you prefer to avoid these battles altogether, at least order something along the cheesy pasta like vegetables, chicken, or fish to balance the cheese-carbs ratio.
8. Kids don’t have to know about ALL the ingredients in the dish, right?! My son likes pesto but the restaurant served spinach pesto. I knew he wouldn’t eat it if he knew about the spinach so I “forgot” to mention it to him. Oops. He enjoyed his pasta with spinach pesto, goat cheese and nuts, and asked for it again the next day. What would you do – tell or not?
9. If you want to go to a fancy restaurant with your kids, check with them ahead if it would be OK for the kids to sit at the table and do a coloring book. We usually bring an activity book and colors with us because not every restaurant has them.
10. Don’t forget to eat your veggies. You will find out that the most popular vegetable side dish is made with potatoes: fries, mashed, baked, and all other forms. Of course we love them in all shapes and sizes, but after a couple of lunches and dinners, it’s time for some veggies, no?!
11. Juice comes only with dessert, not before the entrée. We usually don’t drink juice at home but while on vacation we loosen up on this. However, we prefer that our son drinks juice only if he eats most of his meal and usually not beofre it’s time for dessert.
And, don’t forget… have fun! Lots of fun!
More about this topic:
Kids menu – Is it good for them? Is it good for you?
Stuffed peppers – a picky eater’s nightmare?
Encourage good eating
NY Times: Picky Eaters? They Get It From You
Some thoughts about parents and picky eaters
Sometimes it’s Pizza for Dinner